David Armstrong

Among the names well known in West Virginia pioneer history and the early history of the Buckhannon River Valley is that of John Bush, whose name is connected with the military conflicts taking place in the region in the 1700s and with the first wave of permanent European settlement of the area. Bush is credited with having built the fort at Buckhannon and he was among the first settlers on Freeman's Creek in today's Lewis County. He lived only about 30 or 40 years, and the first 20 years of his life are somewhat cloudy and information on his early years is not easy to come by. He left many descendants, and much has been written about his exploits with the Revolutionary War, with forting, and with the Indians.

John Bush was probably born about 1750 or 1755, according to a timetable of his life that can be reconstructed using details of his later years. He may have been born in Pennsylvania or perhaps on the South Fork of the South Branch in today's Pendleton County, West Virginia. His father was George Adam Bush, an early resident of the South Fork area, and a pioneer settler at Buckhannon and on Freeman's Creek above mentioned. George Adam Bush (originally Busch) was a German by birth, and was likely connected with the German families of Flesher and Butcher who also were pioneer residents on the Buckhannon and West Fork Rivers.

No primary evidence is know to exist that would help document John Bush's early life. It is known that he married Mary Hacker, a sister of John Hacker. She and her father and brothers were early residents on the Buckhannon River and the marriage to Bush likely took place in that area about 1774 or 1775. This was the time of the Dunmore War, and the opening years of the American Revolution.

It is possible that John Bush was a participant in the Dunmore campaign against the Indians that culminated in the Battle of Point Pleasant in 1774. The name of a John Bush appears on the pay roll of John Robertson's Company in the Pittsburgh pay rolls in 1775, these being rolls assembled to pay soldiers and other personnel for service in the Dunmore War of 1774. The name of a John Bush also appears as a sergeant in the company of William Nalle in the Romney and Winchester section of the same pay rolls. Whether either of both of these listings is the John Bush of Buckhannon and whether they are the same man or different has not been determined.

As was stated above, John Bush has been credited with the building of the fort at Buckhannon. Very little is known about the fort and it's building from primary evidence. Secondary evidence would credit both John Bush and William White with the building of the fort, depending on which of the sources one is looking at. It has been stated also that the fort was constructed in 1773, but it is likely that it would have been in 1774 when Dunmore's War broke out and numerous area forts were constructed for the protection of area settlers.

Prior to 1781 John Bush was living on the Buckhannon River, and when the land commissioners met in 1781 to settle claims for unpatented lands in the region he appeared and made his claim for 200 acres on Buckhannon River adjoining John Hacker, based on having made a settlement there in 1773. John Bush apparently lived on this tract for several years and it was located not at the site of the fort but further south and east upstream on the other side of the river, near what is now South Florida Street section of Buckhannon. In 1781 John Bush's brother, Jacob Bush, went into military service at Buckhannon Fort as a substitute for his brother John.

John Bush is mentioned in several sources in connection with the fall of Buckhannon Fort in 1782. It is said that when the fort fell several persons were in the process of removing to various other forts for protection. On the way to a fort in the Tygart Valley a party consisting of John Bush, Michael Hagle (Bush's brother-in-law) and Elias Painter was attacked and Hagle and Painter fell. The horse that John Bush was riding was shot through, but Bush escaped, but was pursued by the Indian forces. A pursuing Indian cried out numerous times to the effect that if Bush would surrender he would not be harmed. An exhausted Bush at one point thought to surrender and turned around only to see the Indian loading his gun in apparent preparation of dispatching Bush then and there. Bush ran off and made a narrow escape to the Tygart Valley. These Indian forces are said to have been led or assisted by renegade whites in the persons of former Buckhannon residents Leonard Schoolcraft and Timothy Dorman. The fort having fallen, shortly several persons returned to the area to retrieve supplies and possessions and camped in the abandoned house of John Bush where it is said that they found a paper in the handwriting of the renegade Dorman listing white captives in Ohio.

John Bush made it safely to the Tygart Valley but the Indian forces followed and apparently a few days later John Bush was found by them near the present day airport in the company of Jacob and Adam Stalnaker. Jacob and Adam were on horseback and riding behind Bush and his wife when they were fired at, and Adam fell. Jacob Stalnaker rode swiftly forward but some of the Indians were in front of him and tried to grab the bridle of his horse but he escaped. John Bush and wife jumped onto the horse that Adam Stalnaker had fallen off of and escaped. Once again Bush had escaped but Adam Stalnaker was not so lucky and he was killed, another victim in an apparent vendetta that the Indians or Tories had against John Bush. Their desire to kill him would later become a reality.

A John Bush is listed in William Buffington' s district in the 1782 tax list of Hampshire County, (West) Virginia. It is known that after the fall of Buckhannon Fort the settlement was broken up and that some of the residents there went to the Tygart Valley and Hampshire County and other places where they show up in the 1782 tax lists. John Bush returned to his settlement on Buckhannon and is documented there in tax lists through the 1780s. His father moved over to the waters of Freeman' s Creek in today's Lewis County and made a pioneer settlement there. Being along in years and the settlers there looking for additional persons to move to the region to augment defenses in the area against the Indians, old George Adam convinced his son to move over to the area of Freeman' s Creek by an offer to trade a piece of his own land there for John' s land claim on Buckhannon.

John Bush moved to James Keith's house for a short time in 1790 until he could make arrangements and build a cabin on the Freeman's Creek property. He also lived for a time with his father while he grew a crop of corn of Freeman's Creek. He completed his cabin in the fall of 1790, and moved onto the property. He would not occupy the property for long, however, as he would be killed by Indians the first spring that he was there.

The story of the killing of John Bush by Indians is well known in border history, and it can be found in several sources. On the morning of the 24th of April 1791, John Bush sent his two eldest children, whose names were Daniel and Ann out to drive up so cattle. Shortly he heard them screaming, took down his gun and started out to investigate. As he reached the door of his cabin he was met there by an Indian who took the gun from him and shot him with it (in the hips according to one source). Bush fell across the threshold and the Indian drew a knife to scalp him.

Mrs. Bush was in bed at the time and she sprang from the bed to assist her husband. The Indian who had shot Bush was attempting to drag him for the house. Mrs. Bush picked up an axe and began fighting, either splitting the head of one, killing five in succession and wounding a sixth, or wounding one in the shoulder depending on the source that one is reading. Her final blow stuck the axe in the body of the Indian with such force that when he pulled back it pulled the handle from her hands. She pulled John Bush into the cabin and fastened the door. During their fray an elderly lady in the cabin is said to have gotten in the way and Mrs. Bush threw her aside with such force as to injure her.

The assailants attempted to force open the door of the cabin and began to shoot through it and strike it with their tomahawks. Mary Bush tried to hold the door by standing with her back against it with her feet braced against a slight elevation in the puncheon floor. It is said that more than twenty bullets passed through the door and that eleven went through the dress worn by Mrs. Bush. Some of these grazed her skin. One source says that a hole was made in the door big enough for one Indian to put his head through and Mrs. Bush killed him with an axe.

Another Indian then put the barrel of his gun through the hole and Mrs. Bush struck it hard with an axe. The force of her blow was so great that the recoil on the other end of the gun drove it into the Indian with such violence as to injure him and to cause him to cry out in plain English "Dern You!" It is well known that many of these raids were led into West Virginia by Tory white people who assisted the Indians and British in the Revolution and one source says that this individual whose exclamation in English were heard at the Bush cabin that morning was none other than Leonard Schoolcraft, the well-known renegade who led raids back into the settlements after having joined the Indians during the Revolutionary War. It is said that this was the third attack that Schoolcraft had made on Bush. Perhaps the reason that the Indians seemed to want to kill Bush so badly was due to some enmity between him and Schoolcraft that dated from before Schoolcraft's removal west to join the Indian forces.

Adam Bush, brother of John Bush, had heard the commotion and had came up to investigate. He came with his dogs and when the Indians heard their barking they thought it was a large party of whites coming to the rescue and they took off, taking two of the Bush children into captivity. They were pursued and overtaken on the Little Kanawha but they dropped their plunder and seven stolen horses and got away.

John Bush was badly wounded. He died a few weeks after he was wounded. It is said that he was on the way to recovery and that he was laughing one day and burst a blood vessel in his wound and bled to death. While he was laid up after his wounding John Bush called his father to his bedside and asked for the old man' s assurance that a deed would be made for the farm giving title to his widow and children after his death. George Adam assured his son that he would see to that at once, but he never got around to it. Mrs. Bush left the farm shortly after Bush's death.

1820s era testimony in the Bush vs Smith law suit in Harrison County recalls how the John Bush farm got out of the hands of his heirs. George Adam Bush apparently was getting senile and drinking heavily, and he sold the farm to Adam Hickman one day when under the influence of alcohol. William Hacker testified that George Adam Bush was often intoxicated in his old age and had began to squander his property. Adam Flesher testified that at the time of the sale of the farm to Hickman, George Adam was addicted to drink and had a good many drunken frolics. William Simms testified that George Adam had been drunk at the time that he signed the deed to Hickman, and George Arnold testified that the old man was convinced that John Bush ' s widow was a witch and that for that reason she should have none of the property.

Of the two Bush children who were carried into captivity by the Indians that fateful day, one source says that they were a boy and a girl and that they were recovered in about two years. The boy supposedly died soon after his release. Another account says that the captive children were both girls and that one was nearly grown at the time. It is said that this older girl too up with a Canadian trader whom she promised to marry. At the time of the Greenville Treaty of 1795 these girls and 100 others from the upper Monongahela River in West Virginia were delivered to the whites. John Hacker, the uncle of the Bush girls, brought them home. But the older girl promised her Canadian fiancÚ that she would return and within one month of being brought back to West Virginia she left and went west and was never heard of again.

As has been said John Bush's widow and children left the property shortly after John Bush's death, and they had to go to court over the title to the place after George Adam did not fulfill his promise to make a deed for the property to the family. John Bush's children were placed in foster care, being bound out to various trades and other people. In 1796 Daniel Bush, son of John Bush, was an object of charity and was granted an allowance for this care by the Harrison County court. William, another son, was bound to Isaac Votaw to learn the black smithing trade. Mary was bound to Henry McWhorter to learn the art of spinning, and James was bound to Archer Hathaway to learn black smithing, and Jacob was bound to Peter Linch to learn the trade of wheelwright.

Mary Bush, the widow of John Bush, was deceased by 1802. John Hacker administered her estate. Most of her children left the area, going to Ohio or to the Mississippi country or other places. Today a commemorative stone in the Heavener Cemetery at Buckhannon marks the location of Buckhannon Fort and the contribution of John Bush to the frontier defenses during the American Revolution. His name survives as one of the prominent figures in the border history and the Revolutionary era settlement of the region.

Selected Sources

1. Harison County, Wv Circuit Clerk's Office. Chancery Files. 17/16 Bush vs Smith, November, 1819 (CMS 16.136 pg 469)

2. Reuben G. Thwaites and Louise P. Kellogg, eds., Documentary History of Dunmore's War (Madison: Wisconsin Historical Society, 1909)

3. Alexander Scott Withers, Chronicles of Border Warfare ed. By Reuben Gold Thwaites, (Parsons, WV., McClain Printing Company, 1989)

4. Monongalia County, WV County Clerk's Office. Record of Commissioners of Unpatented Lands.

5. H.W. Beckwith, History of Vermilion County (Chicago, H. H. Hill and Company, 1879)

6. Lucullus Virgil McWhorter, The Border Settlers of Northwestern Virginia (Richwood, WV, Jim Comstock, 1974)

7. W. B. Cutright, The History of Upshur County, West Virginia (Parsons, WV, McClain Printing Company, 1977)

8. William Hacker, "Tales of the Pioneers." (Selbyville, Ind.) Daily Republican (2 Nov 1885)

The Allegheny Regional Family History Society
Post Office Box 1804
Elkins, West Virginia, 26241


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