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Randolph County Illinois
Genealogy and History

News Stories of Murders

Abduction of Robert McMahon

The name of Robert McMahon is connected with one of the most terrible Indian atrocities ever committed in Illinois. It occurred in 1795 while he was a resident of what was afterward known as the "Yankee Prairie." Four Indians attacked his house in daylight, and killed his wife and four of his children before his eyes. The dead bodies were laid on the cabin floor in a row, and McMahon himself and two of his daughters were carried away in captivity. The murders occurred in December, and the weather at the time was excessively cold. One of McMahon's arms was tied behind his back, and the party struck off in a northeast course over the frozen ground. Prairie du Long creek was crossed not far above its mouth. The encampment the first night was made on Richland creek about half a mile below the present city of Belleville. McMahon was tied down on his back with ropes so that he could neither move nor stir. His shoes, and most of his clothes were taken from him and put under the Indians, to prevent his getting them should he attempt to escape. In addition a belt, finely wrought with porcupine quills and small bells was put around him so that if he stirred, the bells would rattle and give the alarm. A scanty portion of dried meat formed the supper for the almost famishing party.

The next morning, the Indians and the captives pursued their course across Silver Creek, above the present town of Lebanon, and camped the second night near the sources of Sugar Creek. This night it snowed. During the night McMahon contrived, when all were sound asleep, to slip off the cords from his arms and body. With his little clothing he covered the belt of bells so that they should make no noise, and was about rising quietly to escape, when one of the Indians raised his head, looked around, but lay down again without noticing anything unusual. When the Indian was once asleep again, McMahon managed to steal quietly from the camp without his shoes, hat and a principal part of his clothing. He was bare-footed, and almost naked on the snow. He slipped back to the camp, and tried to get his shoes, or a pair of the Indian's moccasins, but could obtain neither. Fitted out as he was started in the night toward New Design as far as he could discover his course. The next night he slept beside a log with some dry leaves for cover. He missed the New Design settlement, and found himself at Prairie du Rocher, where he first saw a white man. McMahon was in a deplorable condition when he reached the settlement. His feet and arms were partly frozen. His clothes were torn and tattered, and his skin and flesh injured and torn in many places. For four days he had tasted little food, and he was almost exhausted with hunger.

Meanwhile some days elapsed before the murder was discovered by the neighbors. A small dog, which had been much petted in the McMahon household, came frequently to the settlement of New Design, running backward and forward toward the residence of McMahon and whining piteously in a vain attempt to summon assistance to McMahon's desolated cabin. But the faithful creature's appeals for aid were not understood, the dead bodies were first discovered by chance by Mr. Judy, an old settler of the New Design neighborhood, who reported it to the settlement. The rugged pioneer is said to have shed tears when he recited the dismal intelligence to the neighbors. The citizens went out and gave a respectable burial to the dead, and the same evening a religious meeting was called, at the farm of James Lemen, as a kind of funeral devotion for the victims of Indian cruelty. It was just as this meeting closed, at nine or ten o'clock at night, that McMahon arrived at the house from Prairie du Rocher, to the surprise of the startled assembly. McMahon's dog was in the house, and at first did not recognize his master so great a change had his miseries and privations created in his appearance. As soon, however, as he saw McMahon's face, and heard his voice, he leaped into his master's lap, almost wild with joy, while McMahon broke forth in lamentations at the murder of his family.

His two daughters were afterward ransomed from the Indians. McMahon himself, a few years after, married again. He located on the Ridge where it is now crossed by a road leading east from Red Bud to the Okaw, on the old Ralls place, now owned by Beverly Wiltshire, section 12, township 4, range 8.

[The above story was extracted from the "Illustrated Historical Atlas of Randolph Co. Illinois", published in 1875 - Submitted by Terry]

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