The following is a somewhat contemporaneous account of the massacre by famed Union scout Daniel Ellis from Carter County, TN, based, he says on what he was told by an unnamed member of the Confederate party. It is found in Chapter XLV11, pp 408-413 of his autobiography, Thrilling Adventures of Daniel Ellis, originally published in 1867 and currently available from Overmountain Press. The passages are verbatim with a portion edited out at the elipses. I will do additional postings concerning names he identified, other actions by Keith and others in the County and the treatment of the widows.
"It was first settled by several old hunters, whose names were Shelton, Heusley, and Tweede; and in order to enjoy their favorite amusement of hunting to the fullest extent, they sought an abode in this remote and desolate mountainous region of country. The population in this valley had increased very rapidly; and before the rebellion there were eighty and one hundred voters in the settlement, and all of them being strong Union men, they totally discountenanced the idea of enlisting in the rebel service.
Shortly after the passage of the notorious conscript law by the rebel government, a heartless and blood-thirsty wretch, by the name of James Keith, came into this retired settlement with a small number of rebel soldiers, and told the citizens if they would submit to the authority of the Southern Confederacy and give up their arms they would never be troubled any more, and that they might go forward in the pursuit of their usual avocations without any further molestation during the continuance of the war. This scoundrel, at the time of his first visit to this settlement, was occupying the position of a rebel colonel, and, consequently, the doomed citizens of this valley were the more easily circumvented by his lying tongue; doubtless thinking that a man who occupied such an elevated position in the rebel service could not possibly be so perfectly destitute of every feeling of humanity as he afterward proved himself to be.
On this occasion Keith succeeded, by his persuasive and false promises, to induce forty of these hard mountaineers to come to his encampment and deliver up their old rifles; these unfortunate men were immediately put into an old house, and a strong guard stationed around them, where they remained until he had enticed all the unsuspecting men to enter his trap that he possibly could, and then started with them to Asheville, North Carolina, where they were confined in a gloomy prison-house until a number of them were released from their miserable bondage by the hand of death, and the balance of them enlisted in the rebel army, from which they afterward deserted and made their way to Federal lines.
On the 19th of January, 1863, Keith made another visit to this section of the country for the purpose of hunting conscripts, accompanied by some four or five hundred rebel soldiers, and Samuel E. Irving, who lives in Washington County, near the red banks of Chuckey River, was one of his officers. He now ordered his men to kill all the men and boys they might capture, and his companion in wickedness and infamy, Samuel E. Irving, at once sanctioned the terrible order, saying that "it was right to kill all the boys, in order to prevent them from growing up to be Federal soldiers and bushwhackers for the Southern soldiers to have to fight." These reckless fiends soon succeeded in capturing seven men and six boys, and some of these men were far beyond the age which the conscript law had designated for the performance of military service, and, besides all this, they were not captured while scouting in the mountains, but they were arrested while they were engaged in their domestic employments.
These prisoners were retained in custody for three days, subjected to the insults and foul abuse of their rebel captors, and then Keith informed them that he was going to send them to Knoxville. When they started with their prisoners through the mountains, one of the little boys said to his father, "They are taking us a near way to Knoxville, are they not?" His father replied, "My son, they are going to kill us." The little, trembling captive then said, "Oh, father, surely they are not going to kill us; these men have been raised in a Christian land, and I hope they have better hearts than to murder us without provocation!" This poor innocent boy did not know that human feeling and human sympathy had been expelled from the hearts of his oppressors. Ah! little did he think that the young flower of his existence was doomed to be so early blighted by the cold and chilling frost of death!
The rebels marched their prisoners along the main road for a distance pf three miles, and then turned up a hollow and went to a sink-hole about three hundred yards from the main road, where they stopped. They now told their prisoners that they might have ten minutes to pray, and, when the time had expired, they at once tied the poor men two and two together, placed them in a line to shoot them, and pulled their hats down over their eyes. They were now ordered to kneel down, and all of them obeyed the order, with the exception of David Shelton, who, when the order was given for him to kneel, indignantly replied, "I would kneel to my God, but I shall not kneel to devils!" The shooting now began, and thirteen men and boys were recklessly and brutally murdered by this inhuman gang of rebel desperadoes.
One of the little boys, when his turn came to be shot, said to the rebel murderers, "Oh, do not shoot me in my forehead, for I do not wish my blood to spoil these little curls, which my mother has combed and kissed so often, while she called me her darling boy." One of the fiends now shot him in the breast, but the ball failed to kill him; he crawled toward his murderers, begging them in the most piteous and heart-rending manner to have mercy on his him, and to spare his life. Keith now ordered them to fire again, and several of them shot at him, but none of them hit him, for they declared that, when they presented their guns, they became so blind they could not see the little boy. Keith, with his black heart inflated to the utmost extent, with devilish malignity drew out his pistol, stepped toward him, and shot him in the head, holding the pistol so close that the very curls were burned off …
While several of the men and boys who were murdered on this occasion were struggling in the last agonies of death, one of the rebel demons in human shape, who was armed with a hoe instead of a gun, would chop them on their heads with it, saying, "I never saw men so hard to kill." And, before they had ceased to struggle, the rebel soldiers began to throw them into the sink-hole, where they piled them up in a promiscuous heap, and covered them over with leaves. Some of the poor men who had not yet expired convulsively stretched out their feet from beneath the covering of the leaves, at which time some of the murderers would say, "Lay still, you old Lincolnite!" while others would say, "Where is the man with the hoe?" At this suggestion, the hardened wretch, true to the instincts of his vile nature, cooly walked up and commenced chopping with his hoe on the heads and legs of the slaughtered victims; and my informant, who was an eye-witness and one of the party, told me that, when the unfeeling monster discontinued his bloody work, the hoe was completely covered with the blood and brains of the murdered men and boys."
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