Gill — The Turner's Falls Fight

Extracted from "History of the Connecticut Valley in Massachusetts, Volume II," by Louis H. Everts, 1879.

      In May, 1676, about a year after the opening of "King Philip's war," intelligence was conveyed to Hadley that the Indians were located in force at Deerfield, where they had for some days been engaged in planting, and that on both sides of the Connecticut River at the falls (now Turner's Falls) they were in considerable numbers engaged in fishing, for which that point was and had been famous. Although King Philip was in Eastern Massachusetts, the Indians at the falls feared no attack from the whites, since they were aware that the English forces on the Connecticut had been materially weakened, and that they were scarcely prepared to make any aggressive movements. Nevertheless, Capt. William Turner (a citizen of Boston, who, earlier captain of a company of Massachusetts troops, was at this time in command of the English troops at Hadley) determined to move on the savages in the absence of Philip, and, having assembled a force of 180 men at Hatfield, with Capt. Samuel Holyoke, of Springfield, as his second in command, set out, on the evening of the 17th of May, for the falls. Journeying all that night, Capt. Turner and his command reached the banks of Fall River at daybreak, and, dismounting, moved on rapidly to the falls.
      Their arrival was signalized by a concentrated attack upon the unsuspecting and sleeping Indians, who, aroused from their slumbers by the roar of the English musketry, fled in confusion to the river and plunged in, some taking to their canoes, others swimming, while many sought safety under the overhanging rocks upon the river's bank. Very few, however, managed to escape. Of those who were not slain at the first assault upon the encampment, it is supposed that 140 were either killed while trying to cross the river or carried over the falls to destruction. When the brief struggle was over, a hundred Indians lay dead upon the ground, and, according to historical authority, fully 300 savages were destroyed on that occasion by the rolling flood and the guns of the English. The loss of the whites was but one man, so complete and thorough was the surprise, and so powerless were the Indians to attempt anything like a resistance.
      Unhappily, the glorious victory was destined to be followed by a disastrous defeat. Capt. Turner, knowing full well that formidable bodies of Indians were in the neighborhood, and were likely to attack him, tarried after the fight but long enough to destroy the Indian camp, and then gave the order for the return march. By this time, however, the Indians on the east bank of the river, and others from below the scene of the fight, were gathering to attack the English, and it was not without some difficulty that the whites reached the place where they had left their horses, for they were twice attacked while en route, although in each case they successfully repulsed their assailants. Shortly after mounting and taking up the return journey for Hatfield, Capt. Turner, who had earlier in the day manifested signs of physical indisposition, grew so ill that it was with difficulty he was enabled to keep his seat on his horse. At this juncture, the command having reached Smead's Island, opposite where Montague City now stands, a sudden attack in large force was made by Indians, and, a report circulating that the attack was led in person by Philip, at the head of a thousand savages, the whites became panic-stricken, and, separating into small bodies, fled in the wildest disorder.
      The passage from Smead's Island to Green River was little short of slaughter. The savages, pursuing, shot down the flying foe or took them into captivity, and when at last Green River was reached, the English ranks had been reduced to less than 150 men. Here Capt. Turner received his death wound, and fell in Greenfield Meadow, near the mouth of Green River, where his body was subsequently found by the English and tenderly cared for.
      Upon the fall of Capt. Turner, Capt. Holyoke, assuming command, rallied the scattered remnants of the band, and, although constantly beset by savage attacks, conducted the retreat with skillful tact and bravery, and eventually reached Hatfield, with 38 men missing from his command.
      Capt. Turner's name was perpetuated and honored by being afterward bestowed upon the falls beside the roar of whose waters he had effected a great Indian slaughter; and sixty years afterward, in 1736, the General Court remembered the services of the soldiers who were engaged in the fight by granting to their descendants, to the number of 97, the tract of land first called Falltown, now Bernardston.
      The village of Riverside, in Gill, is supposed to occupy the spot where the fight took place, and in that village a grove used by picnic parties is said to mark the precise locality of Capt. Turner's first attack upon the Indian camp.

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10 Jul 2005