Massacre at Ruddles & Martins Station – June 1780

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Massacre at Ruddles & Martins Station – June 1780


(As performed for the first time at Boone Station – April 21-22, 2007)

Following in the footsteps of longhunters such as Boone & Kenton, the first forts were established in the Kentucky wilderness in 1774 & 1775 just as the Revolutionary War was gaining momentum. While the settlers were busy building cabins and strongholds in the vacant Kentucky interior, the British and Indians were making plans for their destruction. They would make three major joint invasions during the next 8 years.
In 1776 John Hinkston was forced to abandon his northerly exposed fort on the banks of the Licking River near present-day Cynthiana.
By 1779, the familiar Siege of Boonesborough was history and the Battle of Blue Licks still three years in the future. That fall, Isaac Ruddle, Simon Kenton, John Hinkston, ex-soldiers and other frontiersmen rebuilt Hinkstons fort which became known as Ruddle’s Station. Ruddles was also known as “Fort Liberty”. Five miles to the South East was the site of John Martin’s smaller Station on Stoner Creek.

Horsemen arrive at the fort at a trot or walk. Settlers come out to greet them. After a minute of visiting, horsemen ride out of the scene.


1779-80 was known as the “Hard Winter”. Snow was on the ground from the middle of November through the middle of February. Blizzard-like weather killed a good part of the cattle and game and sorely tested the settlers.
Action (as following narration continues):Settlers start coming out of the fort. Children begin to play in the field.

1779-80 was known as the “Hard Winter”. Snow was on the ground from the middle of November through the middle of February. Blizzard-like weather killed a good part of the cattle and game and sorely tested the settlers. But, as is still common in Kentucky, the winter broke suddenly and the unusually wet spring brought renewed hope to the settlements.
Action (as following narration continues):

Two boys start running away from the fort towards the hidden Indian Warriors. After a few dozen yards shots ring out, one boy falls. One Indian rushes towards the boys. Other boy shakes fallen boy, then runs back to fort screaming “Indians! Indians!” as the Indian approaches, tomahawks & scalps the injured boy. Settlers already rushing from fort drive him off, rescue the boy. One of the rescuers is shot on approach and is also carried back into the fort.


In early March, about 200 Indians surprised the settlements, attacking Ruddles Station at dawn as well as Strodes Station in present-day Winchester. Andrew Beard was “shot in the breast” and 16-year-old Joseph Conway was shot, tomahawked, scalped and left for dead. Amazingly, both survived the war. At that time one of the stockade walls of Ruddles Station was unfinished on the side facing the River.
The settlers won that skirmish and soon finished the fort, but in 3 months the Indians would be back with crucial reinforcements.

Break in action as settlers retreat to fort.


An unusually wet spell allowed Captain Byrd to come up the Licking River with 150 British Rangers. Traveling hundreds of miles from the Detroit/Canada region, he had collected more than 800 Indians along the way for a combined force of more than 1000 warriors & soldiers. Most important of all, they brought with them the deadly 3 & 6 pound cannons which had never been brought against Kentucky forts.
Landing at present-day Falmouth, an advanced party of 200 Indians under Alexander McKee surround the fort before daylight commencing the attack on the morning of June 24th, 1780.

Indians attack from the woods with much gusto, shouting, whooping & shooting.


The attack would continue from daybreak until noon.

Indians advance through the field as the British appear with flags & cannon.

Some minutes of fighting occur.
3-pound Cannon fires. Medium bang is heard, splinters fly off top of wall, settlers are quiet for a moment, then cheering & jeering breaks out from behind the fort walls.
Some more minutes of fighting occur. The British confer.
6-pound cannon rolls up and is fired. Fort wall explodes/falls apart, loud bang is heard, splinters fly, dust rises, settlers fall or go flying. Much screaming and shouting.
Then… silence from the fort. Cheers, shots in the air & jeers from the British & Indians.

With very visible damage, the shaken settlers realize their fort walls will not stand much more from the cannon and they will be defenseless before the enemy. Within the fort, the debate rages, should we fight or surrender?
Action [while narrator speaks]:

A white flag is sent to the fort from the British. Armed men come from the fort, surround the messenger (Simon Girty). ALTERNATELY, the messenger goes inside the fort, all armed men within the fort point their guns at the messenger.

As the following narration begins, the messenger leaves amidst jeers form the settlers.
The passionate debate continues, settlers visibly upset with the situation and with each other.
James Trabue tells us: “Capt. Ruddle insisted it would be best to cappitulate. Capt. Hinkston and James Trabue insisted to defend the fort. At length Capt. Ruddle got a majority on his side and petitioned Col. Byrd to capitulate. The flag was sent back and forward several times before they agreed and the articles was sighned and agreed to.”

After a few minutes, the British appear to be making preparations to fire the cannon.

Immediately, a makeshift flag is waved by Captain Hinkston (white apron on broom stick or gun barrel) as Captain Ruddle advances further representing the fort to the British.
As the British representative meets him, the negotiations resume resulting in a conclusion. Both retreat to their respective sides.

Another eyewitness states:

Byrd sent in a flag and demanded surrender at discretion, to which demand Captain Ruddle answered that he could not consent to surrender, but on certain conditions, one of which was that the prisoners should be under the protection of the British and not suffered to be prisoners of the Indians; to these terms Colonel Byrd consented, and immediately the gates were opened to him.”

Trabue continues: “The terms of cappitulation was that [Captain] Byrd and his white soldiers should protect the people that was in the fort and march thim to Detroyt as prisoners, and that the Indians should have nothing to do with them, that the peoples cloathing and papers should be sicure to themselves with some little exceptions.”


As the negotiations conclude, the British cheer & march up to the fort, the Indians appear eager to move in.

After a brief ceremony between the fort leaders & the British officer, the settlers lay their rifles down as the enemy covers them with their weapons.

A contemporary account describes:

No sooner were the gates opened than the Indians rushed into the station and each seized the first person they could lay their hands on and claimed them as their own prisoner. In this way the members of every family were separated from each other, the husband from the wife, and the parents from their children.”


Indians rush in, British attempt to stop them but are brushed aside. Words are exchanged between British & Indians [Settler leaders appeal to Captain Byrd, shouting, “You promised!”, “You are breaking the agreement!”] Indians win the scuffle.

In the ensuing free-for-all, 22 inhabitants are killed, others beaten, stripped and divided amongst the Indians.
Settlers are forced to go into the fort by their captors & gather their worldly goods.
After the fort is abandoned, some Indians rush out of the fort, whooping. Smoke rises from the fort.
Settlers are loaded up with booty & roughly escorted away from the fort towards Detroit.

Two days later, Martin’s fell. In all, 470 settlers we killed or captured. Simon Kenton stated that he and Captain Charles Gatliff (whose family was taken at Martins) passed these two stations soon after the tragedy and found "a number of people lying about killed & scalped." The two frontiersmen followed but were unable to help the captives. There persists an intriguing legend of a cannon liberation one night during a river crossing.
Jeremiah Morrow, whose father, James, was one of the captives, related that "the Indians entered the fort & commenced a terrible slaughter ... some 20 were tomahawked in cold blood,".

Indians continue to intimidate, beat, slaughter settlers, leaving a trail of bodies from the fort..

James Trabue as well as Captain Hinkston later escaped and brought word of the captive’s who were marched up the Licking River and then taken all the way to Detroit and beyond. Many of these would return 3 or 4 years later, after the end of the war. Many were longer in being restored to their families. Isaac Ruddle’s ten year old son, Stephen was still raiding Kentucky with his adopted tribe in 1792. And Sally Conway, Joseph’s little sister whose 7th birthday was the day after her capture, was taken by the Indians and not returned for 9 years. Many returned as late as 1995 after the Battle of Fallen Timbers and the Treaty of Greenville.
Over twenty settlers were killed at the fort, more did not survive the trip. Imagine the despair of trudging miles and miles carrying their own possessions. Family heirloom & practical tool, all now belonging to the enemy. Fear of death was never far away.
As James Trabue’s brother Daniel relates:
…they killed old Mistress Barger, an old Duch woman who we was aquainted with. As one company of Indians marched along, this old woman behind: one Indian behind her he would jump up and wave his Tomerhock and cut a number of capers and then killed her. The blow came when this old lady was not expecting it. They finished her and skelped her and then raised a dreadfull yell. My brother said he often looked behind to see if they was cuting capers behind him.”
Action as narration continues:

Horsemen canter up to the fort. Visibly shaken, they check for survivors, (possibly stack bodies near the fort & lay tree branches over them), then quickly leave the scene.


We learn of the brave frontier women Mrs. Spears & Easton. Crossing the river, they begged to be untied from the wagon. Fearing the worst, Mrs. Spears took off her ring. Sadly, both women drowned that day, the ring passed down through the family to today.

The field clears, leaving only dead bodies, scattered clothing and settler gear and an abandoned & smoking fort.

It was just a decade ago that the descendants of these captives met for the first time since these families last saw each other in 1780.
We have with us members of the Ruddles & Martins Station Historical Association which include descendants of those brave pioneer families of 1780’s Kentucky. Today we honor the memory of our first frontier Kentucky settlers and the sacrifice they made as the foundations of America were laid 226 years ago. Several of the captured had served elsewhere as Revolutionary War soldiers and had served at other forts during events such as the Siege of Boonesborough.
Please take the time to meet these descendants of the first Kentuckians and let them tell you the stories of… the settlers of Ruddles & Martins Station, June 1780.
We hope you will also take time to visit with our reenactors & see the displays, stores, & Living History demonstration areas. Thank you for coming today!
Copyright 2007 – Jon Hagee: Ruddles & Martins Station Historical Association

(version updated 8/11/2007)


  • mention Clark

  • make separate handouts for reenactors & public.

Duperon Baby, (age 40), French resident of Detroit. Shawnee interpretor for the Indian Department in Canada

Tories of the expedition included Matthew Elliott,(31) Alexander McKee, Girty brothers, Simon, James & George, Phillip Le Duc.
MCKEE, ALEXANDER (c.1745-1799) A native of Pennsylvania, sided with the British at the beginning of the Revolution and was quite influential in handling the Indians. The English authorities made him captain in the Indian department and after 1778, deputy agent.
ELLIOTT, MATTHEW (1749-1814) Born 1749 in Ireland, Indian trader, served as captain in the Royal Indian Department, 1777-1784, and fought at the Battle of Blue Licks and Sandusky in the Indian massacres of the Revolution.
Captain Henry Bird, (age 35), The King’s Eight. Bird was described as a very ugly man. He was afflicted with smallpox when young and his face was severely scarred. He also was aid to have nearsighted, had a hair-lip and talked with a lisp.
Major Arent De Peyster, involved, but not on the expedition.
While the Indians were attacking Ruddle's Fort, one Indian succeeded in getting under the puncheon floor of Mrs. McFall's cabin.[54] She poured boiling water through the cracks routing him in a hurry. She remained in captivity many years, but her husband soon escaped during an attack by Clark upon the Indians.
The Indians killed and scalped a number of children because they could not keep up on the march. They seemed, however, to have taken a fancy to little Johnnie Lail, two years odd, and decided to see if he would make a "good Indian," rolling him rapidly down the river bank. He didn't cry, thus securing his own adoption and that of his brother George, three years older. Johnnie came back after Wayne's Treaty and lived to be an old and useful citizen of Harrison County. George married an Indian and lived among the Indians for many years. Finally, however, he came back to the home of his childhood, but his Indian wile deserted him and went back to her people.
There are vague accounts of one or two other forts that were attacked & burned. One was Grant’s Station (or fort). The other is unknown.
John Conway:

State of Kentucky, County of Nicholas.

… entered the service of the United States under the following named officer and served as herein stated: That in the month of April or May 1776, he entered the service as an enlisted soldier in the company commanded by Captain James Newell and was marched to Cheyels? lead mines in Montgomery County, Virginia to guard said mines against the Tories and Indians and served out the full term of 6 months, the period for which he enlisted and was honorably discharged at said mines in Montgomery County, Va. And that he again entered the service for the term of 18 months in the month of May 1777 as an enlisted soldier under Captain William Buchannon, Col. John Bowman, and was marched to Boonesboro in the State of Kentucky where he served out the above term of 18 months, guarding ____, during which term the British and Indians besieged the said fort for nine days and nights; when they abandoned the siege Capt. Boone was there as one of the commanders. He further states that after his discharge at Boonesboro, he still remai ned in Kentucky and in April 1779 he went with Captain Isaac Ruddle and settled Ruddle's Station on the south fork of Licking River and continued then acting as a guard and Indian spy for Ruddle's Station until the 24th of June 1780, when after a severe battle with the British and Indians we were compelled to surrender, the British being about 300 and the Indians about 700 strong and armed with artillery; that he was marched by the British and Indians, with the other prisoners they had taken at Ruddle's and Martin's Stations to Detroit, and was kept there as a prisoner until the fall of 1784. When he was liberated, he returned to Kentucky. And he further states that in the fall of 1787 he volunteered in the company of Captain William _____, Benjamin Logan's Campaign against the Piqua town of Indians on the head of Mad River in the State of Ohio, that they fought the Indians, defeated them, and took some prisoners, and this campaign he served the period of 50 or 60 days.
JOSEPH CONWAY, was born in Virginia in 1763 to John and Elizabeth Bridgewater Conway, his wife. In the fall of 1779, with his family, Joseph moved to Kentucky, to a fort known as Ruddle's Station. March 10, 1780, Joseph was caught by Indians, scalped and left for dead just outside the stockade where he was tending a small herd of cattle. Brought into the stockade, his wounded head was treated to staunch the flow of blood, by using cob-webs, a common practice in those days.

SARAH/SALLY CONWAY: Captured by Indians at age 6, retrieved by her brother John 9 years later from an old Indian couple.

JESSE CONWAY: That he enlisted in the Army of the United States in the year 1777 with William Buchanan and was commanded by him and Lieutenant Joseph Drake and Ensign Ephraim Drake at Reed Island in the State of Virginia in the spring of 1777 and in June marched under the command of Colonel Bowman to Boonsborough where he was under the command of Colonel Boon, and was in the service eighteen months, in the fall of 1777 the fort was besieged by the Indians who kept up the seize for nine days and nights, when they were compelled to retire in great loss. Soon after this he was discharged and returned home to Reed Island, and in the next spring or the spring of 1779 he returned to Harrodsburgh and enlisted in the company commanded by Captain Isaac Ruddle, Lieutenant Casper Casner, other ensign's name is not recollected, and Colonel Bowman, and stationed at the fort on Licking River and served till the 24th of June 1780 when the fort was taken and the whole garrison made prisoners and the fort was burnt by the British and Indians. The British was commanded by Captain Bird. He with the other prisoners were taken to Detroit and kept there till the general peace was made when they were sent to Fort Pitt and there discharged in the year 1784, having been four years prisoners.

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