Pigeon Roost and the Battle of Fort William Harrison

After the fall of Ft Detroit to the British on 16 August 1812, Indians all along America’s western frontier began raiding in earnest. On 3 September 1812, a Shawnee war party descended upon the small settlement of Pigeon’s Roost (in modern day Indiana just across the Ohio River from Louisville, Kentucky). The attack was a complete surprise and many inhabitants were killed before they could make it to the Collings family blockhouse. The scalps of 15 children (including 2 infants), 6 women and 3 men from Pigeon’s Roost were eventually presented to the British commander at Ft Detroit.

Most of the men from Pigeon Roost were away in the militia, including some at Fort Harrison, in present day Terra Haute, Indiana.. On the same day Pigeon Roost was attacked, 600 Miami and Potawatomi Indians approached the fort demanding its surrender. Captain (and future President) Zachary Taylor asked for a parley in the morning which the Indians agreed to. CPT Taylor had 50 soldiers and militiamen, but unfortunately 30 were ill and bedridden. During the night, one Indian scout set fire to the blockhouse, and while the healthy members of the garrison tried to put out the fire, the Indians attacked. The situation looked grim and two of the garrison immediately deserted.

Taylor quickly assessed the situation and left three able-bodied defenders to fight the fire, including one woman who lowered herself into a well to fill buckets faster. Once he dispelled the confusion through sheer force of will, Zachary l shouted “Taylor never surrenders!” and then led the other 15 healthy defenders and every invalid who could walk in a charge to clear the palisade. After brutal hand to hand fighting along the wall, the Indians broke off the attack and settled into a siege. The defenders lost all of their food in the fire but fortunately COL William Russell was at nearby Vincennes with the 7th US Infantry, a ranger company, and a company of militia including a few Pigeon Roost men. They lifted the siege on 12 September and gave America its first victory on land in the War of 1812.

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