The Copus Massacre

The morning of September 10, 1812 broke quietly and uneventfully as far as anyone could tell, but what few realized was that a situation that started weeks before was coming to a head.

The Carter, Zimmer, Ruffner and Copus families came to settle in what we now know as Mifflin Township in Ashland County. Stories conflict on what year that was, but it was around 1803. The new families helped each other set up houses and, for a time, got along wonderfully with the Native Americans in the region. There was already enough strife in other places that the Native Americans were watchful and suspicious, but these settlers did not seem at risk and they were befriended.

Unfortunately, other parts of the state did not enjoy this kind of relationship and strife became more common. The country was at war, and this gave Native Americans the opportunity to attack settlements. Eventually, the Army was called in to deal with the problem. They dealt with it, in the same way that the next generations would, by trying to move the Indians west, away from their lands.

When the military showed up in this area, the Commander spoke to Mr. Copus telling him that the Indians would have to move "temporarily" till things settled down, and that he wanted his help to explain this to them. James Copus had spoken to the Indians many times. He insisted these Indians were not violent, but to no effect. The Commander insisted they place themselves in "protective custody." James agreed to speak to them, and he went with the Commander and spoke at a council meeting and assured them, as he had been assured, that they would return soon and their homes and land would be undisturbed. The Indians were upset, as one can imagine, but trusted Mr. Copus and went without much struggle.

They were barely a few miles away when the Army ransacked the camp, packed up everything they thought worth saving, and burned the village to the ground. The Indians were still close enough to see the smoke rising from their homes, and this lit a flame of revenge in them. James Copus and some of the other settlers were angry as well, not only because liars had been made of them, but because this put their families at risk.

Several Indians escaped, and assuming that the settlers had lied to them, they went to exact revenge. Early on the morning of the 10th, a servant of the Ruffners saw a party of Indians in the woods headed toward the Zimmer place. He alerted Mr. Ruffner who made quick tracks for the Zimmers. Ruffner was a tough man and had enough relatives killed in Indian uprisings to have developed a hate for them. The Zimmers had an older couple, a younger man and several children living in the house. The younger man, Phillip, was convinced to go and get help from the neighbors, and Ruffner would stay and guard the family. This he did. He believed there were only five Indians to worry about. The reality was more like 45, and shortly after Phillip left, the attack came.

Ruffner fought bravely, to the extent that when he ran out of ammunition, he used his rifle like a club. He was eventually killed and scalped, and then the attack proceeded to the rest of the family. Kate Zimmer was the last killed, after being forced to give up her father's money. She saw the blow coming and put up an arm to shield it. That first blow nearly severed her arm, and the second fell into her skull and she was dead in seconds. When Phillip returned with James Copus and several others later, the house was dark and quiet and James sensed something was not right. Phillip wanted to rush to the house, but he was held back. James was concerned there could be Indians waiting in the house for Phillip's return. He crept up and looked in the house and observed the family and Ruffner lying dead, mutilated and scalped.

Despite anger and grief, Mr. Copus knew he had to get his family to safety. Many of the settlers packed up and went hours away. The Copus family went to the blockhouse in present day Jeromesville. After staying there several days, he reluctantly listened to the military who assured him the Indians were gone.

The Copus family returned to their home and found everything undisturbed and thought better of the situation. They were accompanied by soldiers with promise of more the next day. Mr. Copus insisted the soldiers sleep in the house, but they declined. They very much had the attitude that there was nothing to worry about, but James was as nervous as a cat. Just before dawn on the morning of the 15th, the soldiers decided to go to the creek to wash. James told them he had not slept, that his dogs barked all night, and this was unusual. He tried to tell them something was wrong and they should stay close. They smiled at him and assured him they would be right back. James told them to take their rifles, and though they said they would, they did not.

No sooner had they entered the spring, then the Indians attacked. Two soldiers fell quickly and a third was chased into the woods. His body was found weeks later leaning against a tree shot through the bowels and the foot. Two soldiers made for the house. By then the cabin was surrounded and both were wounded on the way. James opened the door and simultaneously discharged his rifle and was hit by the shot from the same Indian he was shooting at. The family barred the door, and James laid in his bed for an hour before dying. He called out to the soldiers that even though he was dying, they should not be discouraged and should fight like men to save themselves and his family.

The battle went on five hours. The house was riddled with gunfire. Those inside had found places to shoot from that kept the house covered, and the Indians stayed back a respectful distance even though they continued to fire upon the house. Those inside reported that the Indians screamed and whooped with every volley, and they were terrified. Just after 11 in the morning, the Indians retreated taking their dead with them. The family inside watched and waited and began to feel that it was over for now, but knew they were still in danger. They were sure that when darkness fell, the Indians would be back. One of the party was sent up through the roof to run for help. There is some question as to who that was, but legend has it that it was young Sarah, barely a teen.

About 1 in the afternoon, one of them saw Indians skulking up through the bushes near the house, and they supposed the battle would begin again. Just before firing on these, one of the men realized they had white skin and called out to them. These it turned out were the soldiers that Mr. Copus had expected to arrive, and they dressed as Indians supposing they would have a joke on the soldiers that were there. They nearly paid for that with their lives.

As with all pioneer tales, legend has added its part to the story, but what we know for sure is that whomever left the house to get help did manage it, and the group was rescued and the Indians pursued and some caught and tried. Some say that Sarah came upon Johnny Appleseed in the woods as she ran to the Carters, and that he picked her up and ran with her and the Carters to the blockhouse. This would be reasonable, as he was well known to all the families in that area. In any event, we know that the Carters and the surviving Copus members ended up in the blockhouse for the winter until everything settled down.

On September 10, 1882, monuments were erected to honor the families and soldiers who died that day, and to honor the valor and bravery of those that protected the living. Sarah was there, then 83 years old, and as she walked back the lane during the planning, she was overcome with grief yet 70 years later.

As those that gave speeches that day said, this battle was one that will be forever remembered as a day of great valor and of miraculous deliverance in the face of sure death.