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In Search of the Killough Massacre

Killough Monument
The winding black top country road shaded with huge east Texas pine trees protected us from the hot July sun as it pried its way through the branches.  As descendants of the Killough Klan living in a distant state, my husband and children had never seen the family monument dedicated to one of the greatest tragedies in East Texas history.  A massacre and tales of conspiracy are still keeping us guessing to this day of what really took place that set this tragedy into motion.  This was how legends are started so we wanted to uncover the truth.  Is it fact or fiction or could it be both?

Our directions and GPS seemed to fail us as we drove deeper into the countryside on Farm to Market (FM) roads that didn’t seem to end.  Farm after farm and roads that appeared to shrink in size as the large oak and pine trees overshadowed them with their huge century old branches.  As we parked along the side of the road a couple who lived close by stopped and asked if they could help us.  In our desperate situation we readily accepted their help.  They knew exactly where we wanted to go and appeared to have helped lost sightseers in the past find this elusive historic site.  

As we followed we quickly realized without a guide we would have never found the old Killough farm homestead.  As we traveled along twisting roads and turning onto one FM road after another our GPS was clueless.  We were fortunate that day unlike our ancestors years ago. 

As we reached the monument, thanked our guides and received directions on how to find our way out, we started to explore the area.  We quickly realized how foreboding and mysterious it appeared to us.  We gave a lesson in history to our children of what we knew yet there was so much we really didn’t know and could only speculate. 

As we approached the monument we did know that we stood on what was once blood soaked ground and the air around us felt heavy with sadness.  The monument area, however, was open and inviting but the surrounding area was thick with trees and overgrown shrubs.  We were thankful that we were there during daylight hours even though dusk was fast approaching by the time we reached the area.

The Killough massacre took place on October 5, 1838.  The Killough family, with Isaac Killough Sr. as the Patriarch, was Irish immigrant farmers who went out that day to harvest their fields.  Normally they would take their guns with them but that day was different.  They didn’t take their guns which proved to be a fatal error.  Eighteen were either killed or taken never to be seen again. It is still a mystery to this day on why they didn’t take their guns since there were known Indian raids in the area.   What happened to the captured family members?

History was awakening before our eyes deep in those east Texas woods.  No longer were we just reading about the event but we were seeing and feeling it just by being there where it all took place.  The monument stood with a large heavy stone base that thinned out the taller it reached into the sky.  It was inscribed with a summary of details that took place that fateful day. It was a pinnacle of a memorial that told of death and survival. 

It read: 
Site of the
Killough Massacre

“In this area on October 5, 1838, the Wood, Killough, and Williams Families, all relatives, were going to the fields.  They were gathering crops grown in spite of Indian raids.  Here less than a year, the settlers usually carried guns to the fields, but this afternoon were unarmed.  Attacked suddenly, 18 pioneers were either killed or captured, never to be heard of again. 8 horseback riders escaped.  The wives of Isaac Killough, Sr., Isaac, Jr. and Samuel Killough fled on foot, carrying a baby.  On their third day of hiding, a friendly Indian saved them.  This was the largest Indian atrocity in East Texas.  Bodies of the few victims were found were buried here.”  (1965)

We knew before seeing the monument that our ancestors had been murdered and some were missing.  That was fact.  We didn’t know what happened to the missing people who were captured.  Any answer to that question would fuel that which legends are made of.   

The fact is our family members died.  Some survivors were carried away by a band of rebels to never be seen again and others escaped to the local Fort. According to Jack Moore’s research paperback book, “The Killough Massacre”, this piece of history is not just about the massacre of innocent settlers. It also depicts the anger and rebellion coming out of the Texas revolution and how it said to have spawned some of Mexican descent to band together with some rebellious Indians to rid the Republic of newcomers.  

Survivors identified a man they knew and said he was disguised as an Indian during the raids that fateful day along with the rebels.  Could this man have fooled the settlers into leaving their guns and then betrayed them?  Answer to this question only produces a new legend.  We may never know.

History can’t be rewritten but we can learn from it.  We can study it up close by traveling to these types of sites and breathing the air, feeling the wind and yes standing where history stood still.  What we do know as fact on that hot summer day is that we found a little piece of history in the back woods of East Texas.  Tragic, ridden with conspiracy, it tells a tale of fact and fiction.  Truth and legend, all snuggled under a large pinnacle of a monument representing death and survival. 


  1. Enjoyed reading your site and seeing the photos. Here is a link to our Killough family that explains how they left Scotland, went to Ireland where they settled for generations, and eventually made their way to America. It's very detailed and it was easy for me to keep track of my patriarchs as history unfurled. Enjoy. :)

  2. Thanks so much for the link! I will definitely check it out. I just started doing family research again so it will be really helpful. Glad you enjoyed my site and photos.


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