THE DEATH OF BENGE or CHIEF BENCH
The following account of the killing of BENGE, related by Dr. James HUFF, the last surviving member of Vincent HOBBS' party
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The story was printed in the "Jacksonian", a paper published at Abingdon, VA., in 1846:"
"If you don't watch out, Captain Benge will get you"
Robert Benge was born circa 1760 probably in the Cherokee village Toquo to John Benge and Wurteh, a Cherokee. Robert grew up to be the most notorious Cherokee in history. He was so feared in the central Appalachian areas of present-day Kentucky, Virginia, and Tennessee, that the settlers admonished their children by saying, "if you don't watch out, Captain Benge will get you."
Toquo was a Cherokee village on the Little Tennessee River in present-day southeastern Tennessee. Robert grew up as a Cherokee, but with his red hair, European look, and his good command of English, he could also pass as a pure Euro-American. He used this double identity to good effect in his raids against the settlers. He was known as Bob Benge, Captain Benge, Chief Benge, Chief Bench, or just The Bench. If he had a Cherokee name, it is not known. Robert's father was John Benge, an Indian trader who lived among the Cherokee, and his mother was Wurteh who was part of an influential Cherokee family. [Robert's pedigree can be found in the genealogy database, "Our Ancestors."]
"Mr. Editor: Having recently had an interview with the venerable Dr. James HUFF of Kentucky, the last of the brave party that defeated the celebrated Indian BENGE and party, who gave me the following account of that affair. That some time in the month of April 1794 just before day-light, a man by the name of John HENDERSON rode up to YOKUM station in Powells Valley now LEE County and informed the station that the Indians had broken up some families on the North Fork of HOLSTON, and had taken the wives of Peter and Henry LIVINGSTON and two servants of the former and also a black man from Edward CLALYHAM, and that the men of the station desired to fall in ahead of the retiring party, as they were well acquainted with their route, and as was common in those times the cry of Indians was sufficient call to arms, they very soon mustered the following brave little band of mountain soldiers: Vincent HOBBS, John BENBEVER, Stephen JONES, James HUFF, James BENBEVER, Peter BENBEVER, Job HOBBS, Abraham HOBBS, Adam ELY, Samuel LIVINGSTON, George YOKUM and _____DOTSON, who were all soon equipped and on their march to a pass in the Cumberland Mountain, where they soon arrived, but seeing no sign in the trace of the recent passage of Indians they divided their company into small parties, to examine the small streams, which were thickly lined with laurel and ivy to the Kentucky side, where a short distance from the base of the mountain, one of the party, discovered a small stream of smoke rise from the edge of the laurel, and upon nearer approach, he perceived throught the dusk of the evening, that it proceeded from the camp of an Indian, who at the moment was stooped down kindling his fire, whereupon he deliberately raised his deadly rifle, at the sharp crack of which the enemy received a mortal wound, and his comrades the signal that the foe was found. They soon gathered and after examination, pronounced their victim a forerunner or hunter sent forward to prepare provisions, so they camped by the dead Indian during the night, at early dawn next morning recrossed the mountain, ascended the vally, marching rapidly to gain a position in a deep hollow in the mountain, that they supposed BENGE and his party would pass, the writer has seen this spot, it is one of those dark deep mountain passes where the ridge on each side seemed to reach the clouds, and tghe centere of the deep gloomy valley below is covered with large masses of unshaken rocks, filled every where with laurel and ivy, with a wild furious stream, tumbling and rolling in the midst."In this dismal place the little band of soldiers took their stand, determined to dispute the passage of BENGE to the last; and to rescue the prisoners or forfeit their lives in the attempt. For the purpose of attacking the enemy, they divided into two companies, and took their stations near each other in the edge of the laurel, adopting the following as the mode of attack. The first company was not to fire until the rear of the enemy had passed them and thus attack in front and rear, while the mountain upon either side afforded no possible passage for the coward or the conquered. Having thus secreted themselves along the gloomy gulf, which has terrors enough in itself to chill the blood of the timid, without the expectation of a deadly foe, these twelve brave backswoodsmen who were accustomed to the screams of the panther and the growls of the bear, sat but a short time calmly and unterrified in their hiding places, until two of them highest up the precipice (Vincent HOBBS and John BENBEVER), saw an Indian and the wife of Peter BENBEVER (LIVINGSTON), marching down the passage, but none of the rest of the party in sight, the prisoner in front of hte dark rough savage, the two soldiers' iron nerves grew stronger when they saw the fair lady driven over the logs, brush, and the stones by an unfeeling savage, and each man cocked his gun and crouched behing a large rock, and waited with breathless silence the approach of the Indian, which must pass within a few yards of them, but being desirous to know whether the rest of the party was yet in sight, BENBEVER cautiously raised his head above the rock to make the discovery and the keen eyed savage saw him at the distance of forty yards, the rest not yet being in sight, at the first sight of the white man's head he stooped forward and threw off a pack and made the dark deep hollow ring with a terrific Indian yell, at the same time making a blow with his tomahawk, struck the woman on the head and she fell dead at his feet; he wheeled and bounded off the way he had come, the two heroes seeing their plan was all frustrated, rose from their hiding place and BENBEVER fired at the running savage without effect; HOBBS a celebrated marksman leveled his piece and held her steadily upon a spot until the Indian passes before his sight, when with that quickness, with which the backwoods riflemen are so wonderfully gifted he fired and the Indian fell shot through the brains, and this was the celebrated BENGE. All the party then left their hiding places and rushed forward to rescue the rest of the prisoners when they found the Indians striving to make their escape into the laurel, and as they rushed upon the enemy who were striving to get into the laurel with the prisoners, my informant says he ran up very near the Indian, who had the other white woman, and raised his rifle to shoot him, at that instant he raised a tomahawk to strike the woman, who caught his arm and held it until my informant made several attempts to shoot the Indian as he was dragging her by the arm, but at every attempt, one of his comrades would seize his gun telling him not to shoot he would kill the woman, he then threw down his gun, drew his butcher knife and rushed towards the Indian, at that instant the Indian having crossed a log, jerked the female against it and extricated his arm and as quick as lightning entered the thicket, but as he entered he received the contents of another man's rifle, which sent him gbleeding to death in the laurel. The party then collected all their prisoners and returned to the tomahawked woman and to their great joy found she was yet alive, and was shortly afterwards with the other prisoners delivered to her friends to the great joy of all. "I would pursue this narrative further, but fearing this unvarnished relation would not be worthy of a place in your excellent paper, I for the present say no more." (DRAPER Manuscript 26 CC 60.) (Note: The name Benbever is a variant spelling of VAN BIBBER.) The above account giving the story of the death of BENGE, the half breed Indian the massacred and plundered for several years in the HOLSTON and POWELL Valley of Virginia and Tennessee. The VAN BEBBER brothers, John, Peter, and James, were sons of Isaac VAN BIBBER and Sarah DAVIS. Isaac VAN BIBBER was killed by Indians in the Battle of Point Pleasant, at Point Pleasant, WV on Oct 10, 1774. The YOAKUM Station mentioned was built by George YOAKUM and the VAN BEBBER brothers. George YOAKUM was the son of Valentine "Felty" YOAKUM, killed by Indians in the "Bloody" Muddy Creek Massacre of July 15, 1763 in GREENBRIER County, Virginia. George was taken hostage along with Elizabeth YOAKUM age 12, Sarah YOAKUM age 5, and Margaret YOAKUM. George was only about eight years old at this time. Margaret may possibly have been the widow of the deceased Valentine YOAKUM. There were many others taken prisoner that day by the Delaware and Shawnee Indians, led by Chief Cornstalk, who fought at Point Pleasant.George was held prisoner until released by Colonel BOUQUET at Fort Pitt on December 1, 1764, from the Delaware. Elizabeth was released at Fort Pitt on January 5, 1765 by Shawnee. Sarah was released on May 10, 1765 by the Shawnee. George later married Martha VAN BEBBER, sister of Peter, James, and John VAN BEBBER. Sarah married Peter VAN BIBBER, III, son of Peter VAN BIBBER, II, and Margery BOUNDS. Peter VAN BIBBER, II, was brother of Isaac VAN BIBBER and son of Peter VAN BIBBER, I. Elizabeth later married John SHOEMAKER.It is not known the identity of these YOAKUM's but believed by this researcher that Sarah and Elizabeth were sisters of George and possibly Margaret was the Mother. This is only a guess and no proof found to support this idea. George moved from GREENBRIER County to WASHINGTON County in 1785 along with Peter VAN BEBBER, and his bride, Eleanor VAN BIBBER (dau. of Peter VAN BIBBER and Margery BOUNDS); John VAN BEBBER, James VAN BEBBER, and Nancy VAN BEBBER, who married Robert HOWARD. They settled on the Powell River and erected Fort YOAKUM. Here John VAN BEBBER met and married Margaret CRISMAN, the oldest daughter of Isaac CRISMAN, I., and Jean SCOTT. Isaac CRISMAN was killed by Indian massacre in 1776 by Indians at the RYE Cove Fort, in present day SCOTT County, VA. His widow later remarried to Nathaniel HIX of the Powell Valley, Virginia area. The YOAKUM, VAN BEBBER, and HOWARD families lived in the Powell River area until about mid 1796 when they moved further down the Powell Valley to HAWKINS County, TN, and built a new YOAKUM Station in what is now Speedwell, CLAIBORNE County, TN, the home rural town of this researcher. The fort was used in the new community as a gathering for Indian troubles, community affairs, school, and most probably church. The fort was active until shortly after 1800, when the Indian troubles in this area were finally resolved. George died in the Cumberland Mountains on Oct 28, 1800 in a bear hunt. The VAN BEBBER brothers remained in Powell Valley the remainder of their life. John died 1818. Peter died ca 1816. James died ca 1834. Nancy and her husband died in Powell Valley.Martha YOAKUM left Powell Valley in 1810 with many of her twelve children and moved to southwest Illinois and eventually settled in SANGAMON County in 1819 and died there in Salisbury Township, near present day Springfield, Ill. Peter's wife, Eleanor, moved to Missouri after the death of her husband, where she had much family living. Hannah HOOVER, wife of James probably died in Powell Valley.This researcher is very interested in the gathering of family records of any of the above named families. Any comments, questions, or additions are welcome. I have several accounts testifying of the above story by witnesses that were that day and also taken prisoner by the Indians.