Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Mystery of the Two Mrs. Renders- Tempe, Arizona

While researching for an historical piece to write about in Maricopa, I stumbled upon a newspaper article in the archives that caught my attention. I was also planning to look into the history of the old Maricopa and Phoenix Railroad, when I found the story of a woman who committed suicide on the railroad tracks in 1906.  As I researched further, I found the story not only to be very tragic, but one that had me asking many questions. So being the "digger" that I am, I decided to keep digging around and I attempted to find the answers.

The newspaper article I found was dated January 3, 1906 and it spoke of an apparent suicide that took place a day earlier in Tempe, Arizona. According to the report, a woman who was going by the name of Mrs. Renders committed suicide at the train depot by throwing herself across the railroad track just as the train was coming into the station. She waited until the "train was too near for the engineer to reverse throttle", she then dropped the satchel she was carrying and threw herself across the tracks, falling in front of the oncoming train, causing her body to be cut in two! She died instantly.

old postcard of a train in the early 1900s
As gory a sight one could imagine, the mystery surrounding why she did it escaped attention in the papers. As soon as the suicide was reported, it was instantly forgotten and not one more mention I could find. According to the paper, it also mentions that "nothing of her identity could be confirmed" but then it states that the few people who were interviewed, claimed that Mrs. Renders was in very ill health. Others claimed the woman they knew as Mrs. Renders was actually Mrs. or Miss Morgan and that she was perfectly healthy. It also states that she had recently had a baby a few weeks earlier, and that she had left it in the care of a Mrs. McVey in Tempe. The lady who jumped onto the tracks of the Maricopa & Phoenix Railroad had purchased a ticket to Maricopa, but of course her final destination proved to be elsewhere.

Going over the newspaper article over and over, I had to wonder why some people said she was Mrs. Renders while she was actually Mrs. or Miss Morgan? I also had to wonder who the father of the child was that she left in the care of Mrs. McVey in Tempe? I also had to wonder why she would kill herself if she had in fact given birth to a new baby just a few weeks earlier?

I did some research into the Arizona Death Index records and looked for a Mrs. Renders, but what I found shocked me. You see, I found a death record in 1906 for a Mrs. Renders, however the death certificate is misspelled as Render, but the date of death was not January 2, 1906 and cause of death wasn't suicide by train. No, I found Mrs. Renders death to be on September 29, 1906, by Tuberculosis. It all started to swirl around in my head, becoming even more intriguing by the minute.

Now, remember this woman was going around saying she was Mrs. Renders, but was reported to actually be named Morgan. She left the child in the care of someone before committing suicide. Now this is just speculation but could it have been possible that this woman was seeing a married man? Perhaps her child was the product of an affair, and when she realized, after giving birth, that the married man was not going to leave his wife, that she then took her own life? It has been done before, so it's possible. I have no proof of this theory, but I cannot deny that it does sound possible to me.

The woman who died in September was buried at Greenwood Cemetery in Phoenix. Her headstone reads "Mrs. Alb. Renders." The engraving was damaged or decayed over the years so you cannot read the entire date of death but you can make out the numbers 28th or 29th, 1906. According to death records, a Mrs. Cora Renders died on September 29th, 1906 from Tuberculosis.  Now that had me thinking again. If she was married to Albert Renders, as the grave notes, and she died from an illness, perhaps the news around town of  a Mrs. Renders being ill was true. It was just that the people who had heard of Mrs. Renders ill health had mistook the suicide victim for Mrs. Renders because she was going around using the same name.

So if the real Mrs. Renders died from ill health in September of 1906, who was this lady who jumped off the platform at the train depot in Tempe on January 2, 1906 a whole eight months earlier? Why did she refer to herself as Mrs. Renders? And who was the father of her baby that she left in the care of Mrs. McVey?

I have not been able to trace this suicide victim any further. If her real last name was "Morgan", I haven't found any death record with that name in Tempe or in any Arizona death record either. I would really like to get to the bottom of this mystery and find out just who this mystery lady was. Who was this person who felt that there was no purpose left in life and chose to end it so tragically and so morbidly, by jumping in front of a moving train?

I checked the Census records for 1910, and located Mr. Albert Renders living in Jerome, Yavapai County, Arizona. He was living with a family, the Goodfellows, and was listed as a widower. I couldn't find any records that he ever remarried, but I found that he died on July 4, 1934 from heart problems and was buried in the Valley View Cemetery in Clarkdale, Yavapai County, Arizona.

The woman, Mrs. McVey, that was said to have been taking care the baby of the suicide victim, was my next search. According to the 1910 Census, the only female McVey I could locate was Mrs. J.A. McVey and she lived in Tempe, was widowed and living with an adult son. No records of a young child living with her. Perhaps if she did have the young lady's child, when she committed suicide, maybe Mrs. McVey returned the child to the woman's next-of-kin to be raised? There really is no way to know for sure, unless we find records to prove this.

So in ending, the mystery continues in the search of just who this Mrs. Renders (Morgan) was who fatally jumped in front of the train. Was she somehow connected to Cora Renders who died eight months later in nearby Phoenix? Was she connected to Albert Renders? The answers still elude us.

(Copyright- 2014; J'aime Rubio, Dreaming Casually Publications) 

US Census Records
Arizona Death Records
Salt Lake Tribune (1/3/1906)
Spanish Fork Press (1/11/1906)

Friday, January 17, 2014

What Happened To Dorothy Waldrop?

If you have read my blogs about the murders of Vesta Belle Sapenter and Anna Corbin, then you know that the main suspect in both cases was Eugene Monroe. Monroe was a troubled young man, who seemed to have issues staying out of jail. He was described by those who had been around him, as a person with a terrible temper, "tortured eyes" and a scarred face. Out of the things he was arrested  and convicted of, I am afraid to think of the many other crimes, and possibly murders he may have committed that we don't know about.

The M.O. used in both Vesta Sapenter's murder and Anna Corbin's murder, was strangulation with a hemp cord. In Vesta Sapenter's case, she was also raped and her lower garments of clothing had been ripped off of her. With Anna Corbin, although she was not raped, her lower clothing had been messed with, which leads me to believe the murderer was going to attempt to rape her but didn't have time or was worried he would get caught so he stopped.

In Anna's case, she was bludgeoned very badly, something that might happen in a severe struggle or out of anger from the assailant. In both cases, I think the victims may have been attacked from behind. Sapenter was hanging curtains in her room when she was attacked, whereas Anna Corbin was arranging flowers in her office when she was attacked. Both were strangled with hemp cords, in the exact same way. One newspaper article even mentioned the fact the very knot used to strangle both victims was placed in the exact same spot, pulled tight behind the left ear.

Although the main suspect in both crimes was never convicted, there were more than enough people who believed he was responsible for both murders. Upon his release from Preston, which his original sentence there was for burglary charges, he went to Tulsa, Oklahoma into the care of his aunt. He was later arrested again in Tulsa, on indecent exposure and later robbery charges. While in jail, Monroe was caught passing a note to another inmate claiming he was the "hottest thing in town." He had also been bragging that he was a "sought after criminal" to another cellmate, when referring to a unsolved murder** he admitted to having committed.

**The murder he may have been bragging about could have been the death of a young pregnant wife, Dorothy Waldrop, but he also could have been bragging about the murder of Anna Corbin, the one he was acquitted for after three trials.

Who Was Dorothy Waldrop?

Dorothy Waldrop was a 22 year-old, former Dance Teacher at the Murray Dance Studio in St. Joseph, Oklahoma. She was also the pregnant wife of Robert Waldrop, a taxi cab driver in Tulsa, Oklahoma.  On the evening of Dorothy's murder, her husband said goodbye to her around 8:15 p.m. when he left for work. Upon arriving home at 1 a.m., Robert discovered the front door wide open and his wife missing. One of their neighbors was later questioned and she remembered hearing a scream around midnight, but it was quick and she didn't know what to think about it so she didn't bother to wake her husband and went back to bed.

Young boys discovered her body June 24th, 1951 on a grassy knoll just outside the apartment building where Dorothy lived with her husband. She had been strangled with a dirty handkerchief and raped post mortem. The partial lower section of the venetian blinds from the Waldrop's apartment was later found in a clump of weeds outside the apartments, near where Dorothy's body was found. According to the authorities, they found Eugene Monroe's fingerprints on the blinds.

Two boys came forward and stated that the night Dorothy was murdered, they saw a man driving a car with California plates around the apartment building and the same vicinity where they later found her body.  Although the police questioned many suspects, including a four-time convicted rapist who had been in the area, all evidence was pointing to Monroe.

When Police Chief Fred Graves finally brought charges on him, they grilled Monroe for 11 hours. Eugene eventually admitted that he did kill Dorothy, and later on he added that he had help from a friend Odell McDaniel; some newspapers say his name was Eugene McDaniel. When he went in for arraignment, Monroe's public defender entered a not guilty plea, despite the fact the police had a written and signed statement from Monroe confessing to the murder. Monroe was faced with yet another murder trial, this time the odds didn't look good.

When it came time for his preliminary hearing, the prosecution had 13 witnesses, which included two African-American witnesses (Edgar Rouseau, a newspaper editor; and Jim Cooley, the Police Department Janitor) who testified that Monroe bragged to them about killing Dorothy. The defense had no witnesses to call.

There was an interesting twist thrown into the mix, when Defense Attorney Amos T. Hall questioned the Police Chief on the stand about Harold Beddoe, M.D., who had seen Monroe during his interrogation. Attorney Hall insinuated that he believed Monroe had been hypnotized into confessing. The Police Chief stated he knew nothing of the sort, and that he wasn't in the room during the time the doctor was seeing Monroe. Later the doctor testified on the condition of Dorothy's body from the murder. According to people in the courtroom when the Dr. Beddoe mentioned how Dorothy was murdered, Monroe "bent his head, covered his face with his left hand, wept, shoulders shaking heavily," and refused to look at Robert Waldrop's face when he testified.

The murder trial against Eugene Monroe began on January 21, 1952.  By April of that same year he had been convicted of the murder of Dorothy Waldrop and  sentenced to life in prison, after County Attorney Lewis Bicking joined defense counsel requested to spare Monroe from the electric chair. District Judge Eben L. Taylor imposed the life sentence for Monroe, sparing the death penalty. He was also given a 35-year sentence for armed robbery of a Oklahoma City Theater in a separate trial and conviction.

By 1976, Monroe had sought parole but was denied by the board although they had recommended reducing his sentence on his previous armed robbery conviction.  By April 25, 1981 Monroe was paroled and he returned to Los Angeles for the remainder of his life. He remained on inactive parole for many years until the Department of Corrections in Oklahoma assigned someone to look for him, being that he had been "missing" from their system. The officer assigned to track Monroe realized his age, being that he was born in 1931 and checked the Social Security Death Index. Sure enough, Eugene Monroe had died on October 3, 2007.  (To read more about Eugene Monroe's life and criminal background, please check out "Was Eugene Monroe a Serial Killer?")

In ending, with Monroe dead and gone we may never know the exact details of the murders of Vesta Sapenter, Anna Corbin or Dorothy Waldrop. In all three cases, only in Dorothy's case was Monroe actually convicted, leaving us to never have full closure for the first two murders. We must never forget those four innocent victims, if  also counting the unborn child, and I often wonder in the back of my mind if they were really the only victims? Could there have been others? It is a very sad thought that there could be more stories like this that we will never have the answers to.

Rest in peace Vesta, Anna and Dorothy (and her baby too).---

Dorothy Helen Camerer Waldrop is buried at Oak Hill Cemetery in Bates County Missouri.  (Section B; Plot 44) -- 

Visit her Find-A-Grave Memorial  

Photo Credit: Cameron Herrell


(Copyright 2014- J'aime Rubio)

Several archived newspapers and information sourced from book,
"Behind The Walls"- J'aime Rubio
Oklahoma Department of Corrections

Additional sources:
Hutchinson News (8/4/1951, 6/26/1951)
Ada News Weekly (8/2/1951)
Daily Mail (6/26/1951)
Fresno Bee (4/24/1952,1/9/1952)
Lawton Constitution (1/19/1976)

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Who Was Vesta Belle Sapenter?

Vesta Sapenter
Not too many people know the story of Vesta Sapenter, but sadly her story is not a good one. On July 18, 1947, her body was discovered in her bedroom. She had been strangled with a hemp cord and raped.  In my book, "Behind The Walls" I discuss the murder of Vesta Sapenter, along with two other murders of a similar nature allegedly committed by the same person of interest, Eugene Monroe.

To start off, Vesta was a 17 year-old, African-American honor student at Jefferson High School in South Central Los Angeles. On the afternoon of July 18, 1947, her 14 year-old brother Carlisle came home from playing with friends at the park only to find the body of his sister in her room upstairs. According to Carlisle, he had arrived home at 5320 Holmes Avenue, to find Eugene Monroe. At the time Monroe was was using his step-father's last name, Jefferson. Monroe seemed to be delivering furniture to the house, and asked Carlisle if he could use the restroom. Carlisle agreed, and Monroe headed upstairs.  When he came back he had asked if he knew where his sister was, and he replied, "she's upstairs."

After not seeing Vesta for awhile, Carlisle became suspicious and decided to go upstairs to check on her.  Monroe followed Carlisle upstairs to "check" on Vesta, when he realized the door to his sister's room was locked. Carlisle broke down the door, only to find the lifeless, half-dressed body of his sister. She had been hanging curtains in her room when the murderer came in and attacked her, more than likely from behind.

Immediately, Eugene was taken in for questioning but the police couldn't hold him.  One of Vesta's friends, 16 year-old Benjamin Allen was also questioned and released. He was the only other person to see Vesta on the day she died, when he walked her home.

The detective on the case, R.R. Coppage claimed that he was certain that Eugene (Jefferson) Monroe was their guy, but because of no witnesses and lack of evidence they had to release him.

"I am certain this boy did the job, but we were just never able to prove it. He was the only one in the house at the time and had ample time to commit the act."-- Detective R.R. Coppage's statement.

The Los Angeles newspaper headlines at the time barely even mentioned this heinous crime, giving Vesta's story only two paragraphs in the paper. During a time when many murders in Los Angeles to young women was rampant and making daily headlines, especially since the Black Dahlia case, which had only occurred six months prior to this. Sadly there was no more mention of it.  Vesta Belle Sapenter, died on July 18, 1947, and the main suspect of her murder got away with it. But this would not be the first nor the last time that Eugene Monroe would make headlines for being a suspect in a similar murder.

In fact, in 1950 he was arrested and tried three times for the murder of Anna Corbin, the head housekeeper at the Preston School of Industry, after being sent there on separate criminal convictions. After three trials, the first two ending in a hung jury and the last an acquittal, Monroe was again a free man. For someone to be a suspect in two very similar cases, it seemed that he was getting away with murder, but it wouldn't last for long though.


UPDATE:  On September 25, 2017,  I had the pleasure of speaking to the kindest, most gracious lady who happened to be Vesta Sapenter's sister.  Our conversation was very emotionally moving for me, hearing her recollection of the time period when her sister passed away, and what she remembered about Monroe. Although it was deeply saddening to hear first hand how devastating this loss was to her family, at the same time I feel maybe we both found some closure on the case in a way. I was able to tell her what happened to Monroe, and that he is passed on, and unable to hurt anyone else. While she confirmed all my suspicions about Monroe by elaborating to me that her own father sensed something was not right with Monroe, and for her brother to stay away from him. That is very telling. Parents sense things even when no one else does. I feel so very bad for her father as well, knowing he had a bad feeling about Monroe, and not being able to protect his family from his reach. Simply heartbreaking. Eugene Monroe not only took four lives (Vesta, Anna, Dorothy and her unborn child), but he devastated three families and countless friends. He took so much, and I often wonder, what else he may have gotten away with? ---

To Read More About Eugene Monroe: "Was Eugene Monroe a Serial Killer?"

For more details of this story and Anna Corbin's story please check out my book, "Behind The Walls" 

(Copyright, 2014- J'aime Rubio)

Archived Newspapers
Photo of Vesta from Pittsburgh Courier (8/2/1947)
"Behind The Walls"-by J'aime Rubio
And a big thank you to Larry Harnisch of the 1947project
for the additional information you provided me about Vesta!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

More Shawnee Attacks on Settlers- West Virginia History

In my previous article, The Clover Bottom Massacre, 1783, I touched on the terrifying account of when Mitchell Clay’s homestead was attacked by Shawnee Indians, ultimately leaving three of his children dead. What many don’t realize is that this was a regular occurrence during these times. People today seem to look at things from a one-sided perspective most of the time, and that is not right. They often go on and on about how the “White Man” was so evil and destructive, stealing the land away from the Native-Americans. What many don’t talk about is the fact that from the very beginning of Europeans stepping foot on this “new land”, the natives were far from friendly. If you were to go back even farther in history you would also see that the native people were not originally from North America, but migrated here over the Bering Strait anyways, so technically this land was not their land originally either. They came here and settled, just as later on the Europeans came here and settled.

It’s fair to say that both sides should take blame for much of the bloodshed equally, but did you know that many of the people who came to America did not want to, nor were they even aware that they would have to face, let alone fight or kill the natives? Many of them felt they were in the middle of something they didn’t want to be in. They had to face the dangers of living in the wilderness of a new land, yet they also had to obey the authority of the Governor who was greedy and didn’t really care about his own people or the natives. I will go into that subject later on in this article. 

Indian Massacre of 1622
First, I will briefly discuss several accounts of families being brutally attacked by the Shawnee Indians during a specific time period in West Virginia and Virginia territory.  These accounts need to spoken, because in the end you need to see that it wasn’t just the European settlers who brought death and danger, but the natives also struck fear in the settlers hearts and left a trail of blood and tears behind as well.

Long before the Clover Bottom Massacre, there had been numerous accounts of brutal attacks on settlers by the natives in this country.  One to mention of course was the Indian Massacre of 1622. Looking into the history of it, you would see that the Powhatan tribe of Indians came to the Colony of Virginia, bearing gifts of food but once in the colony they began a vicious attack, killing over 347 settlers. They then traveled up and down the river, burning the settlements and homes and killing settlers.  As I stated above, the people in charge of the colonies really didn’t have the best interest of their settlers or their safety at heart, thus putting them all in danger.

During my research into specific areas in West Virginia history, I found several accounts of brutal attacks on settlers who were not seeking out the native people, not torturing them, and certainly not attacking their villages or burning their homes like the native people did to the settlers. One account that took place, happened in 1777 ( six years before the Clover Bottom Massacre).  Colonel James Graham and his family had retired for the evening in their cabin when Graham heard a knock on the door. When he approached the door, he heard a voice in broken English muttering, “Open Door!”

When Graham refused to comply with the request, the Indians outside grew very angry and started shooting at the door. Grahams two children had fled to a detached cabin where the Indians managed to break into. They shot through the clapboards, injuring the boy with the gunshot, shattering his leg. They then proceeded to enter the dwelling, kidnapping both children. While traveling to their village the young boy’s condition grew worse and he was not able to walk, so the Indians bashed his head against a tree, smashing his brain. They kept the young girl, who was only 8 years old at the time. They held her captive for nearly 8 more years until her father was able to later ransom her and secure her freedom.
During 1777, the dangers of continuous attacks and murders of white settlers by the Indians during the Summer months, prompted many families to flee to forts for safety and remain there sometimes for the entire Summer. You see, the area in which these attacks continued to occur was what the Shawnee considered their "Summer Hunting Ground"- although their villages were all the way in Ohio.  So during the Summer months the threat of attack was far more severe than at any other time of the year.

In 1778, a massacre was averted thanks to the help of Captain McKee and his men. Over 200 Indians attacked Fort Randolph, but thanks to the garrison of  21 men defending the fort, they were able to thwart off the attack. When the Indians headed away in the direction of the Greenbrier settlements, McKee sent off two of his men who actually made it to the settlements first to warn them of the impending attack. Due to their quick thinking and diligence, they saved numerous amounts of lives and averted a massacre.

In the Spring of 1778, another brutal attack on a family homestead occurred on the mouth of Wolf Creek, on New River. The attack was on the McKensey family who lived in a house on the property near the creek. Mr. McKensey, his wife, children (sons: Isaac, Henley & daughters: Sallie, Elizabeth, Margaret, Mary Anne, a baby) lived on the property with a housemaid/hired servant, Ms. Estridge. It was said that the settlers did not have land that had boundaries or fences in which to allow their stock (cows, horses, etc.) to wander and graze so they would put bells on the animals and let them roam. Well, the horses wandered off into the woods. Mr. McKensey figured the horses meant to head back to the place from which they had initially travelled from, Walker’s Creek. So Mr. McKensey took his older son, Isaac with him to search for their horses to bring them back home. When Mr. McKensey and his son had made it all the way to the top of Big Hill, they heard the sounds of gunfire in the valley below.  His younger son, Henley had been on the hill looking for a spot to plant sweet potatoes when the attack ensued. 

Woodcut of Indians Raiding a Fort
The Shawnee had waited until McKensey and his older son had left the area when they began their attack on the household. They first shot Henley, killing him. Then they made their way to the house and tried to enter. Sallie and Mrs. McKensey had tried to barricade the door, but the Indians still managed to push their way through. The first one, squeezed his head and arms through the door, trying to wiggle his way in, while Sallie reached for an axe and attacked him, severely wounding him. While that was taking place, another managed to push the door open and attempted to take Sallie as their prisoner. She gave up a good fight with him and in the end he drove a knife through her chest, killing her as well as Mrs. McKensey.

The hired servant, Ms. Estridge took the little girl Mary Anne and tried to hide in the shed. However, upon the little girls crying and whimpering, Estridge became fearful that the little girl’s noises would give up their hiding place. Trying to save herself, Estridge let the little girl go, who ran off scared and the Indians grabbed her, bashing her head into a door frame and crushing her skull. The saddest part of this story is the fact the Indians took the nursing infant, who was barely crawling, and attempted to scalp it alive. The record doesn’t state if it was a girl or boy, but that upon finding the bodies of his family, McKensey found his infant child alive, scalped and trying to nurse on it’s mother’s bloody corpse.

Two of McKensey’s daughters were unaccounted for, being that they had been kidnapped. During this ordeal the Indians managed to kill Philip Kavanah whom they had ran into on their way out of the area,  and they also captured Francis Denny. They brought their captives back with him to their village where the two girls Elizabeth and Margaret remained for nearly 18 years. After being traded between tribes and forcibly raped by the Chief, who wanted her to marry him, Margaret refused and kept the hope of one day escaping her captors. At one point Margaret was able to get a horse and attempted an escape. Her foster sister in the tribe told her she would defend her with her life, when she was caught by the Chief. Not willing to let Margaret go, the Chief told her that if she didn’t marry him, he would kill her. Margaret fought with him over a knife, when her foster sister attempted to intervene and told Margaret to hide. The fight between the girl and the Indian was brutal, although no one died from the incident. The Chief later left with other Indians and was killed in Wayne’s Battle. Later Margaret and Elizabeth managed to get free and returned home, never forgetting the trials and tribulations they faced in their early life.

There are so many more stories just like these that happened too often back then. I haven’t even touched on the incident at the Davidson-Bailey fort yet, which I will go into further in my next blog. Not only did the settlers have to face attacks and murders of their own families, but the settlers had to deal with the fact the Shawnee often stole their horses and ran them up to Canada and sold them as well.

You may wonder why I am so interested in telling these stories. Well, I must be honest, I am a truth seeker. I don’t like half-truths. I don’t like society blaming the European settlers on all the bad that took place in our history’s past, because that isn’t accurate. I read a letter that was addressed to the authorities of the time by the settlers in regards to the conditions in which they were living in, in the late 1700s.

The letter showed that these settlers did not come to this country with the idea they would have to deal with or fight off Indians. They left their native country with the promise of peace and freedom of practicing their Christian faith without fear of any sort of persecution. It was obvious that the settlers were thrown in the middle of the Governor and his authority and the anger the Natives felt towards the new visitors. Most of the settlers wanted nothing to do with any sort of fighting and even mentioned that they adhered to “rational, constitutional principles, pacific (meaning peaceful), steady and uniform conduct.” They go on to mention that when they  “crossed the Atlantic and explored wilderness”, starting their new lives in a new land, it only led them to experience “savages.. insistently…committing depredations” on them since their first settling in the Country. “These fatigues and dangers were patiently encountered, supported by the pleasing hope of enjoying these rights and liberties which had been granted to Virginians, and denied us in our Native Country.” 

 Basically, they stated that they fled their previous homeland with the hopes and false promises of a peaceful new life in a new land,  that they were told they would be allowed to live on in peace. The settlers came here, tricked on false pretenses of being “free” in every sense of the word, but the Government who built the colonies didn’t have their people’s best interest at heart at all. Nor did they care about the natives either, but it wasn’t the settlers fault. They were just as na├»ve about what was happening as much as the natives who didn’t understand why or where these new people were coming from.

Honestly, I feel badly for the people who came to America looking for a new life because they have been blamed for most of the atrocities that their Government was actually at fault for. Then in turn, the atrocities the Indians committed on the people was directed at settlers instead of the ones running the Government which is unfortunate as well. In the end, it seemed that the settlers received blows from both ends and received a very bad rap.   

In my next blog I will go into further detail of the Incident at the Davidson-Bailey Fort.

(Copyright 2014- J'aime Rubio, Dreaming Casually Publications)

American Archives, 4th Series, 1st Volume, Page 1166

A History of Middle New River Settlements and Contiguous Territory
By David Emmons Johnston

Clover Bottom Massacre, 1783 - West Virginia History

Bluestone River

In the next series of articles I will speak of some of the atrocious events that took place in U.S. History near where my ancestors settled in the region along the borders of West Virginia and Virginia in the late 1700s. This first article will cover the infamous Clover Bottom Massacre of 1783.

Before I begin, I must tell you this event was not a random occurrence. In fact, it is quite the contrary. Upon my research into these stories I have found dozens of accounts in the general area and vicinity during that time period that showed the native people in the surrounding areas were vicious and brutal, often attacking women and children while they were alone, and showing absolutely no mercy whatsoever.  This particular story is to tell you a true historical account, so you can see for yourself what life must have been like for a white settler in the new land we now know as the United States, and all the dangers they faced, lurking literally around every corner. 

Massacre at Clover Bottom-

Mitchell Clay House
In April of 1774, Mitchell Clay obtained a Crown Grant from Lord Dunmore, the Royal Governor of Virginia, for 803 acres of land which covered both sides of the Bluestone River (a tributary of New River) named Clover Bottom, West Virginia. Within the next year, he, his wife and children moved onto the land and started cultivating it and living off of it, creating their homestead which was the first white settlement within Mercer County. The Clay family made for themselves a prosperous farm, which contained a field for livestock, a tobacco field, wheat field, orchard and kitchen garden as well as their home which they built. 

In August of 1783, after Clay had harvested his grain crop, he and his sons had started to build fences around the stacks of grain to keep the livestock from reaching it while they wandered the fields. Clay delegated the job to build the fences to his teenage sons Ezekiel and Bartley.  On a day when Clay had gone hunting, he never imagined what he would find when he returned that evening.

While Bartley and Ezekiel were busy at work, building the fences, their sisters were washing on the banks of the river and their mom and younger children were inside the house. At some point, eleven Indians crept up on the two young men and suddenly the sound of a gunshot echoed through the area. Bartley had been shot and killed by one of the Shawnee encroaching on the farm. The girls heard the shot and immediately headed towards the house, literally running into the Shawnee on the property. One of the older daughters, Tabitha, saw one of the Indians attempting to scalp her brother Bartley, so she attacked him, attempting to reach for his knife. She struggled viciously, eventually losing the fight and succumbing to several stab wounds from the assailant. 

During the fight, a man whose name lived in infamy for many generations, Liggon Blankenship had called on the Clay household and witnessed the attack from the side of the house. Mrs. Clay begged him to get involved to save her children who were being attacked, but instead he turned around and fled to the nearest settlements at New River to report that the Clay family had all been attacked and killed by Indians. Needless to say, his name was tarnished for quite some time as a coward.

Indian Raid on Settlement Woodcut
The Shawnee scalped Tabitha and Bartley, while capturing Ezekiel and taking him alive as their prisoner back into the woods from which they came.  Mrs. Clay, distraught and in shock managed to pull her two children’s lifeless bodies from outside, into the home and then she and the younger children fled on foot, six miles to the Bailey settlement to seek assistance. When Mr. Clay made it home and discovered his two children’s lifeless bodies, he assumed that his entire family had been killed or captured. He fled off into the night through the woods, heading for the settlements at New River to get help. During his travel in the woods, he ascertained that the Shawnee were following him on horses they had stolen. He managed to evade them until the morning when he finally reached Captain Matthew Farley who rounded up a posse of men: Mitchell Clay, Charles Clay, Mitchell Clay, Jr., James Bailey (son of Richard Peyton Bailey), William Wiley, Edward Hale, Joseph Hare, Isaac Cole, John French and Captain James Moore who all went up to the Clay property to view the gory scene and plan their next move against the Shawnee.

Apparently, upon leaving the Clay property, the Shawnee broke off into two groups, both travelling two different paths. One group of Shawnee went down the west fork of the Coal River over Cherry Pond Mountain, while the other group travelled down the Pond fork of the river on the other side of the mountain. The posse of men followed the trail that led them to the group of Shawnee at the Pond fork where they were able to surround them in the night. The group decided to wait until the break of dawn’s first light to attack the natives, making sure they had the upper hand with men above and below them on the hill. As soon as one of the natives awoke in the morning, he spotted Edward Hale and before he could warn the rest of the Shawnee, Edward shot him dead, awaking the rest of them.

During the attack, two of the Indians were killed immediately while another was wounded. He begged for his life to be spared, but seeing that Ezekiel was not among the group, and realizing they had split up, Charles Clay (who was only about 12 years old at the time) killed the Indian for what happened to his siblings. According to author, David Emmons Johnston, he stated that the location in which this attack took place on the fork of the Pond River is in a location in Boone County, off the old property of L.D. Coon who found a pile of rocks with a piece of an Indian hatchet in the general area. Because of the brutality of the deaths of the Clay children, Edward Hale and William Wiley took from the dead Indian’s, strips of their hides, which they turned into razor straps and kept in their family possession for generations as a battle souvenir. 

Unfortunately, because the natives split up in two groups, the other group that evaded Mitchell Clay and his posse, made it all the way to Chillicothe, Ohio, with their prisoner, Ezekiel Clay whom they tortured and burned at the stake. Sadly, another one of the Clay children had perished at the hands of the native people who attacked them.

After the brutal attack on their homestead, Phoebe Belcher (who was the sister of Richard Peyton Bailey’s wife, Elizabeth Ann Belcher, who happens to be my gr-gr-gr-gr-gr grandmother), refused to return to the Clay farm and insisted to move to Pearisburg to be near her oldest daughter Rebecca. She never stepped foot on the property again for the rest of her life.

Agony In Stone (photo: Ed Elam)
This tale is just one of many tales of brutal attacks against defenseless families on their homestead by the Shawnee. Was this attack, in the Shawnees mind, a way of the native people getting back at the people for the “Dunmore’s War” that had taken place just years before? Well, even if that was their reasoning for justifying it, it wasn’t right they attacked innocent women and children, period. In history, there are brutal stories from both sides, and we need to be willing to see and accept that. The white man was not the only one to blame for vicious and blatant attacks on human beings. In fact, historical record worldwide shows that every single culture is guilty of violence in the name of spreading out over land. It was certainly not the first case, nor would it be the last.

It is a shame that stories like these are swept under the rug and erased from history, due to the fact that people are so afraid to offend the Native Americans of their imperfect past. They are just as guilty as the Europeans of violence and brutality, many times even to one another as well. Again my friends, as I always say “People hate the truth, luckily the truth doesn’t care.” When it comes to history, let us always remember the whole truths, not just half-truths of our Country’s past. Again, whether good or bad, the truth must always be told.

A statue in honor of Mitchell and Phoebe (Belcher) Clay was erected outside of the Mercer County Courthouse in West Virginia. The statue is called “Agony In Stone” and was dedicated to the memory of the three children the Clay family lost that August day in 1783.

Rest in Peace, Bartley Clay, Tabitha Clay and Ezekiel Clay, and the rest of the Clay family including Mitchell and his wife Phoebe. You are never forgotten!
Kentucky Clay: Eleven Generations of a Southern Dynasty
By Katherine R Bateman
A History of Middle New River Settlements and Contiguous Territory
By David Emmons Johnston
U.S. Government War Archives

"Agony In Stone"-Findagrave , Ed Elam
Bluestone River, Wikipedia (Creative Commons License)
Indian Raid on Settlement Woodcut, U.S. History (Public Domain)
Mitchell Clay House, (from "A History of Middle New River Settlements and Contiguous Territory)