Life In The Indian Territory
The Story Of The Scalping Of Barbara Culp McKinney
Indian Territory
Chester District, South Carolina
Barbara Culp McKinney's grave at Burnt Meeting House Church Cemetery, Chester Co., SC.

As I did research on our family genealogy I came across the story of Barbara Culp McKinney, my 4th Great Aunt. This is her true story as written in the book “Women of the American Revolution”  by Elizabeth F. Ellet.

The little settlement of white settlers had spread over the rich lands on Fishing and Rocky Creeks, the dwellings being gathered into clusters, of which there were some three or four within a short distance of each other.  Not a great way from Steel’s and Taylor’s Forts was another settlement consisting of a few families, among which were those of William McKenny (sic) and his brother James.  These lived near Fishing Creek.  In the summer of 1761, sixteen Indians, with some squaws of the Cherokee tribe, took up their abode for several weeks near what is called Simpson’s Shoals, for the purpose of hunting and fishing during the hot months.  In August, the two McKennys being absent on a journey to Camden, William’s wife, Barbara, was left alone with several young children.  One day she saw the Indian women running towards her house in great haste, followed by the men.  She had no time to offer resistance; the squaws seized her and the children, pulled them into the house, and shoved them behind the door, where they immediately placed themselves on guard, pushing back the Indians as fast as they tried to force their way in, and uttering the most fearful outcries.  Mrs. McKenny concluded it was their intention to kill her, and expected her fate every moment.  The assistance rendered by the squaws, whether given out of compassion for a lonely mother, or in return for kindness shown them, --proved effectual for her protection till the arrival of one of the chiefs, who drew his long knife and drove off the savages.  The mother, apprehending another attack, went to some of her neighbors and entreated them to come and stay with her.  Robert Brown and Joanna his wife, Sarah Ferguson, her daughter Sarah and two sons, and a young man named Michael Melbury, came in compliance with her request, and took up their quarters in the house.  The next morning Mrs. McKenny ventured out alone to milk her cows.  It had been her practice heretofore to take some of the children with her, and she could not explain why she went alone this time, though she was not free from apprehension, it seemed to be so by a special ordering of Providence.  While she was milking, the Indians crept towards her on their hands and knees; she heard not their approach, nor knew anything till they seized her.  Sensible at once of all the horror of her situation, she made no effort to escape, but promised to go quietly with them.  They then set off towards the house, holding her fast by the arm.  She had the presence of mind to walk as far off as possible from the Indian who held her, expecting Melbury to fire as they approached her dwelling.  As they came up, he fired, wounding the one who held Mrs. McKenny; she broke from his hold and ran, and another Indian pursued and seized her.  At this moment she was just at her own door, which John Ferguson imprudently opening that she might enter, the Indians shot him dead as he presented himself.  His mother ran to him and received another shot in her thigh, of which she died in a few days.  Melbury, who saw that all their lives depended on prompt action, dragged them from the door, fastened it, and repairing to the loft, prepared for a vigorous defense.  There were in all, five guns. Sarah Ferguson loaded for him while he kept up a continual fire, aiming at the Indians wherever one could be seen.
Determined to effect their object of forcing an entrance, some of the savages came very near the house, keeping under cover of an outhouse in which Brown and his wife had taken refuge, not being able on the alarm, to get into the house.  They had crept into a corner and were crouched there close to the boarding.  One of the Indians, coming up, leaned against the outside, separated from them only by a few boards, the crevices between which probably enabled them to see him.  Mrs. Brown proposed to take a sword that lie by them and run the savage through the body, but her husband refused; he expected death, he said, every moment, and did not wish to go out of the world having his hands crimsoned with the blood of any fellow creature.  “Let me die in peace”, were his words, “with all the world”.  Joanna, though in the same peril, could not respond to the charitable feeling.  “If I am to die”, she said, “I should like first to send some of the redskins on their journey.  But we are not so sure we have to die don’t you hear the crack of Melbury’s rifle?  He holds the house.  I warrant you, that redskin looked awfully scared as he leaned against the corner here.  We could have done it in a moment.”  

Mrs. McKenny, meanwhile, having failed to get into her house, had been again seized by the Indians, and desperately regardless of here own safety, was doing all in her power to help her besieged friends.  She would knock the priming out of the guns carried by the savages, and when they presented them to fire would throw them up, so that the discharge might prove harmless.  She was often heard to say, afterwards, that all fear had left her, and she thought only of those within the building, for she expected for herself neither deliverance nor mercy.  Melbury continued to fire whenever one of the enemy appeared; they kept themselves, however, concealed, for the most part, behind trees or the outhouse.  Several were wounded by his cool and well-directed shots, and at length, tired of the contest, the Indians retreated, carrying Mrs. McKenny with them.  She now resisted with all her strength, preferring instant death to the more terrible fate of a captive in the hands of the fierce Cherokees.  Her refusal to go forward irritated her captors, and when they had dragged her about half a mile, near a rock upon the plantation now occupied by John Culp, she received a second blow with the tomahawk which stretched her insensible upon the ground.  When after some time consciousness returned, she found herself lying upon the rock, to which she had been dragged from the spot where she fell.  She was stripped naked, and her scalp had been taken off.  By degrees the knowledge of her condition, and the desire of obtaining help came upon her.  She lifted up her head, and looking around, saw the wretches who had so cruelly mangled her, pulling ears of corn from a field near, to roast for their meal.  She laid her head quickly down again, well knowing that if they saw her alive, they would not be slack in coming for finish the work of death.  Thus she lay motionless till all was silent, and she found they were gone; then with great pain and difficulty she dragged herself back to the house.  It may be imagined with what feelings the unfortunate woman was received by her friends and children, and how she met the bereaved mother wounded unto death, who had suffered for her attempt to save others.  One of the blows received by Mrs. McKenny had made a deep wound in her back; the others were upon her head.  When her wounds had been dressed as well as was practicable, Melbury and the others assisted her to a bed.  Brown and his brave wife having then joined the little garrison, preparations were made for defense in case of another attack’ the guns were all loaded and placed ready for use, and committing the house to the care of the Browns, Melbury sallied forth, rifle in hand, and took to the woods.  He made his way directly, and as quickly as possible, to Taylor’s Fort at Landsford.  The men there, informed of what had happened, immediately set about preparations for pursuing the treacherous Indians who had thus violated the implied good faith of neighbors by assailing an unprotected woman.  The next morning a number of the, well armed, started for the Indian encampment at the shoals.  The Cherokees were gone; but the indignant pursuers took up the trail, which they followed as far as Broad River.  Here they saw the Indians on the other side, but did not judge it expedient to pursue them further, or provoke an encounter.

In the meantime William McKenny had reason for uneasiness in his absence from home; for he knew that the Indians had been at the shoals some time, nor was the deceitful and cruel character of the tribe unknown to him.  He was accustomed long afterwards to tell of the warning conveyed to him while on his road to Camden; two nights in succession he dreamed of losing his hat, and looking upon this as an omen of evil, became so uncomfortable that he could proceed no further.  Taking one of the horses out of the wagon, he mounted and rode homeward at his utmost speed.  Reaching his own house a little after dark, he was admitted by the women as soon as he made himself known.  The scene that greeted his eyes was one truly heart-rending; the slain man, John Ferguson, still lay there, and in the same apartment the dying mother and Mrs. McKenny, more like one dead than living, mangled almost past recognition- the blood still gushing from her wounds, and drenching the pillows on which she lay.  No fictitious tragedy could surpass the horrors of this in real life. 

Days later a group of men from the area trailed the Indians within miles of the Cherokee Nation. One of the men, Thomas Garett, killed the Indian that scalped Mrs. McKinney and actually found her scalp in the Indian’s shot bag. 

The wounds in Mrs. McKenny’s head never healed entirely; but continued to break out occasionally, so that the blood flowing from them stained the bed at night, and sometimes fragments of bone came off; nevertheless, she lived many years afterwards and bore several children.  She was at the time with child, and in about three months gave birth to a daughter-Hannah, afterwards married to John Stedman- living in Tennessee in 1827.  This child was plainly marked with a tomahawk and drops of blood, as if running down the side of her face.  The families of McKenny and McFadden residing on Fishing Creek, are descended from this Barbara McKenny; but most of her descendants have emigrated to the West.  The above-mentioned occurrence is narrated in a manuscript in the hand-writing of her grandson, Robert McFadden.

Several years later, Barbara would be faced with an equal threat in her life that would test her strength and devotion for her family. For in the near future, the clouds of war would open and pour out eight years of hell. Once she committed to that war of independence, to retreat was unacceptable, no matter how imposing the task ahead. The mounting investment in her blood, sweat, and tears influenced a final, decisive resolution of the great question of the American independence. Thanks to Barbara Culp McKenny, and others like her, an independent nation was born…

 Thanks to
Edward Jordan Lanham for permission to use material from his website -