Saturday, November 8, 2008

The McLane Massacre of 1840 - Part Two

This is the monument erected during the 20th century on the site of the McLane Massacre in Gadsden County, Florida.
The site is now located deep in a wooded area on private property near Greensboro, but the story is one of the best remembered from the early days of Gadsden County.
In this post I will continue with the story of the massacre as told in my new book, The Early History of Gadsden County. You can visit for ordering information or check with the West Gadsden Historical Society, Inc. (visit their website at for contact information).
Continuing now with the excerpt from the new book:
McLane Massacre Chapter Excerpt, Continued...
Many years later, when he was a man in his eighties, John McLane gave a vivid account of the attack to Rev. A.L. Woodward. After providing information on the community as it appeared at that time and location of the cabin, McLane described how he had just gone out to find herbs for tea when he heard an unexpected sound:

I had gone out and was between the house and the cowpen when I heard a ripping in the low bushes northwest of the house. At first I thought it was some of our cattle, which had taken fright at something and were running to the pen, but upon turning around, what was my horror to see a band of eighteen Creek warriors in full war costume, armed with guns, scalping knives and bows and arrows, coming toward the house in a run.
I screamed to my sister, `run to the house, the Indians! the Indians!' She sprang off like a deer and soon gained the house. I also ran in the direction of the house, but before I reached it the foremost warrior stopped, threw his rifle upon me and fired. The ball grazed my left shoulder, inflicting a trifling wound.

The McLane cabin, like most of those days, was stoutly built. It measured about 12 by 15 feet, had a door on the east side, a shuttered window and a fireplace. Loopholes had been cut in the logs to allow the inhabitants to fire through in the event of attack and McLane was quick to take advantage of these:

I succeeded in getting into the house and fastening the door when the Indians, with their usual cowardice, fearing they would be shot from the loop-hole, retreated to the kitchen and proceeded to hold a big feast with what they found there. We had plenty of bacon, meal and other provisions, and there was also a quantity of cooked food. We could plainly hear them as they cooked and feasted, but they were careful not to expose themselves to fire from the loop-holes.

Due to fear of fire, kitchens were often detached from homes during the 19th century and this was the case at the McLane cabin. The kitchen was a separate building behind the cabin and nearby was the farm blacksmith shop. Staying clear of McLane’s gunfire from the cabin, the warriors ate the food in the kitchen and began to collect provisions and other supplies to take with them. The attack might well have ended there, with the well-armed family barricaded in the stout little log cabin, but events were just beginning to unfold:

…Then occurred the awful tragedy of the day, the memory of which will never fade from my mind. My mother had taken up the idea that she could take the children and escape to the east, keeping the house between her and the Indians in the kitchen, until she got across the branch, when she could then reach the Pickett or McDougal settlement, four miles away. I pleaded with her not to make the attempt, telling her that the Indians always had pickets out, who would see her, and begged her to remain and all die together. But she was determined to go, and I think her judgment was overcome by terror and excitement.

McLane pleaded with his mother not to go, but she climbed from the window of the cabin with the three girls, one of thirteen, one of two and one that was still a baby. As the young man watched, they started to run down the sloping ground to a small branch or creek that flowed into the Telogia:

Looking through a loop-hole my worst fears were realized, for I saw two Indians running around on the north side to head her off. I opened the door and jumped out and was taking aim at one of those Indians when a bullet from the rear whistled past my head and I was forced to jump back into the house and fasten the door. In another moment I heard the screams of my mother and sister and then two shots rang out and all was still.

There was little doubt in McLane’s mind as to what had happened and he knew that his mother and sisters were dead. But, in his own words, “I did not have much time to think.” The silence that had followed the attack on the women was followed by a loud roar from the cabin and he quickly realized that the kitchen had been set on fire, evidently in hopes that the flames would spread to the main house. The effort failed, however, and the warriors now tried a new ploy:

There was a quantity of cotton in the workshop, and they rolled this into balls which they set afire and threw upon the roof of the house by means of long poles, which they cut near the branch. But the balls of burning cotton rolled off the steep roof without igniting it. This I did not know at the time, and, thinking that my jig was about up, I determined to sell my life dearly, and made preparations accordingly. Pulling the heavy dinner table across the room to act as a sort of breastwork or barricade, I laid my musket, heavily loaded with slugs, upon it. Then taking my rifle, I placed the muzzle to my forehead to see if I could pull the trigger with my naked toe, having determined to kill myself rather than be captured. As I lowered the rifle I discovered to my dismay that it was cocked and the trigger sprung, and I had actually touched it with my toe in experimenting. It was a wonder I did not discharge it and kill myself prematurely.

McLane remembered that he was “praying with all my soul” through the ordeal and that “my prayers were answered.” The wind that had been blowing from the west, pushing the flames from the kitchen closer and closer to the cabin, suddenly shifted.
(Note: This posting is excerpting from the book, The Early History of Gadsden County. I will have more on the McLane Massacre in the next post).

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