Killough Massacre Monument
By Dana Goolsby
JACKSONVILLE- After researching the Eden-Madden Massacre near Grapeland, Texas a few years ago, I became interested in other such sites of unfortunate and tragic events in East Texas. I had long since heard tales of the Killough Massacre, which took place on the outskirts of present-day Jacksonville, Texas. There was no shortage of local lore and legends surround the burial ground, which only intrigued my adventurous spirit even more, and the history surrounding the obelisk monument built in remembrance of the worst Indian massacre in East Texas history lured me in.
Tales of a an Indian spirit in full battle dress appearing on a horse, war whoops echoing from beneath the pine tree canvas, and a mysterious fog that appears even on warm, sunny day were just a few of the legends locals tell about the site. Others are baffled by the construction process of the monument, which has in turn lead to some very interesting theories regarding exactly how the monument was built.
After two failed attempts of searching for the Killough Massacre monument down winding farm and market roads in Cherokee County I finally found the site. The monument stood much taller than I anticipated and its presence alone was commanding in the historic cemetery. While many photographers won’t linger in cemeteries I tend to be fearless, and embrace the beauty of the burial grounds.
The graves of those who were found dead are around the base of the monument. The area is surrounded by a fence with a historical marker near the entrance. The grounds are maintained nicely, however some of the markers have been damaged by vandals. Other than the tragic history engraved in stone and the site was serene and beautiful.
The Killough Cemetery is the final resting place of eighteen victims, who were murdered on October 5, 1838, near the site of Old Larissa in northwestern Cherokee County, in what is said to be the largest single Indian depredation East Texas history.
According to the Texas State Historical Association (TSHA), on Christmas Eve in 1837, Isaac Killough, Sr. of Talledega County Alabama, his four sons, two daughters and their husbands, along with two single men, Elbert and Barakias Williams, settled on what is now known as Killough Creek, located seven miles northwest of Jacksonville. The land on which they settled was part of a larger tract that was originally granted to the Cherokees under Sam Houston and John Forbes’s treaty in 1836, which was nullified by the Republic of Texas Senate in December 1837, and portions of the land were sold to the Killoughs and other settlers. The rescinding of the treaty and increasing incursions of new settlers provoked bitter resentments in local Indian tribes, which lead to the uprisings the following year in 1838.
During the early months of 1838, the Killough clan began building houses, clearing land, and planting crops. They worked on their new homestead throughout the year and by August their first crop of corn was ready to be harvested. It was around this time that the Killough group received word of growing insurrection of disgruntled Mexicans and Indians in the region led by Vicenta Córdova, the former magistrate of Nacogdoches.
Córdova plotted to retake Texas and to assist his cause he encouraged and incited the Indians to attack English-speaking settlers in order to open the way for Mexican invasion. According to the TSHA, his scheme is known as the The Córdova Rebellion, even though the plan never came to fruition due to being suppressed by a militia organized by Gen. Thomas J. Rusk.
During this time of unrest the Killough group and approximately thirty other settlers had relocated to Nacogdcohes to take refuge, but around late September the settlers returned to their home-site to harvest their crops.
On October 5, 1838, the group fell under attack by a hostile band of Indians. Eighteen of the settlers, including Isaac Killough, Sr., were killed or carried off. The band of perpetrators’ composition has never been fully substantiated, with reports of Caddos, Coushattas, several runaway slaves, Mexicans, possibly Keechis, and whites masscarading as Indians being involved in the attack.
A militia led by Rusk struck out to find the perpetrators. Rusk and his men traveled to Fort Houston, located near present-day Palestine where they learned the band was camped at Old Kickapoo Village, near Frankston. Rusk led an attack on the band the following day. According to TSHA, “eleven members of the band were killed, including a renegade Cherokee named Tail.”
Although there is no documentation to support the claim, some say the Killough group had made an agreement with the local Native American groups that would allow them to return to their land unharmed until the first “great white frost.” There are also those who say that local Native American groups were wrongly blamed for the massacre. Some even say that had it not been for the Indians, there would have been no survivors that fateful day.
In the late 1930s, a stone obelisk was erected in memory of the Killough Massacre victims. In 1965, a state historical marker was dedicated at the site. The site is open from 8a.m. to 8p.m.
Driving Directions to the Killough Monument
- From the intersection of Highway 69 and FM 855 go west on FM 855 until you reach FM 3405. There you will see a sign that reads “Killough Monument” pointing to the left.
- Turn left on FM 3405 and proceed aprroximately .4 miles to FM 3411.
- Take a right on 3409
- Veer left on FM 3441 and proceed approximately .6 miles until you reach an iron green gate, with huge boulders on each side of the entrance. (This road is FM 3431 but there is no sign).
- Turn left and enter through the gateway with the large boulders. The monument and cemetery are at end of the road on the left.