History fascinates me and I try to visit historical places wherever I go. I was recently asked to speak at Troy Taylor’s Dead Of Winter Festival in Decatur, Illinois and used the opportunity to travel to the Mississippi River town of Alton, Illinois. Troy Taylor has written a book about this historic (and haunted) little town and I was interested in visiting there.
I heard the story of the Wood River Massacre at the restaurant we chose for dinner, Castelli’s. The article I read on the history of the restaurant said that it was near the location of the Wood River Massacre Monument. I found the monument on the way back to the hotel and did some internet research that evening to find out more about the story.
The Wood River Massacre took place in 1814 when the area around Alton was being settled by pioneers and still inhabited by Native Americans. There were about eight families that settled the area in sites nears the forks of Wood River. The area had seen a lot of fighting between the settlers and the Native Americans during the years of 1812 and 1813 but nothing recent had taken place. There were local forts and block houses that were used as protection for the families but most had returned to their farms by the summer of 1814.
The men in these Alton families were Rangers that worked for the local forts. These men patrolled the areas surrounding Wood River and other small villages to ensure the safety of the families. Three brothers and their families lived in the area. George, William, and Abel Moore had all moved to the Wood River and all three served as Rangers. George Moore had a block house on his property that the women and children would flee to if the need arose.
July 10, 1814 was a Sunday and Reason Reagan, who lived near the Moore’s farm, left his wife Rachel and their two children at Abel’s house to visit while he rode the three miles to attend church. At around 4:00 in the afternoon Rachel decided to return to her home and started to walk the one mile distance. She was accompanied by her two children, Elizabeth, 7 years old, and Timothy, 3 years old, and by two of Abel’s children, William, 10 years old and Joel, 8 years old. Two of William Moore’s children also went with her, John, 10 years old and George who was only three. Mrs. Abel Moore’s sister, Hannah Bates started to walk with them, but a short way down the road, she decided to turn back though Rachel pleaded with her to walk the rest of the way.
William Moore returned later that day from his Ranger duties at Fort Butler to keep the woman and children protected while the other men from the area finished their patrols. Both William and his wife became concerned when Rachel and the children had not returned by the time night fell. They decided to look for the children and took different paths so they did not miss them. Mrs. Moore rode her horse on the road and William walked the path through the woods.
They both stumbled on the bodies of Rachel and the children and rushed home to get assistance and to spread the word of the attack. Some of the local boys were sent to tell Abel Moore, who was the Captain of Fort Russell, and others were sent to Fort Butler to bring more men while the rest of the families huddled together for safety. They must have been terrified as they moved their families through the woods to the place of shelter. It was morning before the bodies of the dead could be recovered.
The sight of Rachel and the six children lying by the road side, all stripped of clothing, must have been horrifying. The bodies all showed signs of being bludgeoned by tomahawk and all seven were scalped. They were gathered up in a wagon and taken to a nearby churchyard where they were buried in three graves. There were no men to make the coffins so the families lined the bottom of the holes with sticks and branches and then placed the little bodies gently in the graves before covering them with more wood.
General Whiteside from Fort Butler and a group of nine men pursued the Native American men that killed Rachel and the children. It was a very hot couple of days during the pursuit and the men and horses suffered from the heat. They caught up with the warriors near the Sangamon River. Only one Native American escaped the Rangers. The Rangers found Rachel’s scalp in a pouch carried by one of the men.
There is a monument to the victims not far from where the massacre took place on Fosterburg Road. There is another in the Gordon Moore Park on the north side of Highway 140. Within the park, inside a little metal fence are the graves of Captain Abel Moore and his wife. Both of the monuments were placed by the Moore Family to honor their lost loved ones.
The victim’s graves can be found inside the peaceful Vaughn Hill Cemetery off Highway 111. The Cemetery is in the parking lot of the Vaughn’s Hill Church toward the back and cannot be seen from the road.
Copyright © 2015 Kathi Kresol, Haunted Rockford Events