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The Copus massacre is a name given to a skirmish occurring on September 15, 1812, between American settlers and Indians on the Ohio frontier during the War of 1812. Reverend James Copus and 3 other settlers died while defending the Copus' settlement near present-day Charles Mill Lake, Ohio.
Traditional legend has it that Johnny Appleseed "raced throughout the region warning others of impending attack" after this incident. Consequently, his name is included on the Copus memorial–a monument dedicated in 1882 to Copus and others fallen in similar attacks–the "earliest known monument erected to his memory and legend".
Reverend James Copus was a trusted friend of the Greentown Indians. He was called upon by Colonel Samuel Kratzer and Captain Douglas to persuade the Indians to peacefully leave and temporarily relocate for fear that the British Army would recruit them as British allies. At first Rev. Copus refused to interfere against them and that he would personally stand accountable for their conduct. Col. Kratzer and Capt. Douglas, told Copus that they were under orders and that if the Natives didn't comply, there would be "blood-shed." Reverend Copus was then compelled to accompany soldiers to the Indian village and speak with the Indians, but not before being assured that the Native's lives and property would be protected if they agreed to surrender. James and his three sons; Henry, James and Wesley reluctantly met with the council of Elders and after much persuasion and reassurance, the Greentown Indians agreed to leave their village.
It is said that after the soldiers led the Greentown Indians on their march, several soldiers straggled behind and ransacked the village and burned it to the ground. After seeing the smoke from their homes, billowing up from where they had left, many Indians broke free and returned for revenge against the settlers. Following the deaths of some of his neighbors by the hands of the Indians, Reverend Copus asked for protection and was moved with his family to a blockhouse. After several days he was told by the Army that there was no longer any danger, so on 14 September 1812, nine soldiers were detailed to accompany him to his home. Upon his return, nothing there had been disturbed and he felt somewhat at ease. Later that afternoon, one of Copus' daughters noticed a Native American at the edge of the woods but did not report the incident.
The following day, seven of the soldiers left to wash at a nearby spring, leaving their weapons near the house. The Native Americans attacked the men at the spring. Three fled to the woods. They were pursued by the Native Americans and two of them were tomahawked; the third man was shot and mortally wounded.
The only soldier who regained the cabin was George Dye, who fought alongside John Shambaugh a neighbor to the Copus family. George Dye was wounded in the thigh by a musketball. As he came through the door, Copus was hit by a shot through his chest. Wounded, Copus and Shambaugh shot and hit several Native Americans.
On the east of the cabin extended a range of hills several hundred feet high covered with timber and large rocks, which furnished an excellent cover for the enemy and gave them a position from which they could fire down upon the cabin. The Native Americans besieged the cabin from the hill. The soldiers tore up the puncheons of the floor and placed them against the door to prevent the balls from penetrating to the interior of the cabin. Nancy Copus, a little girl, was wounded in the knee by a ball that passed through the door. John Shambaugh shot and killed the attacker of Nancy Copus. One of the soldiers, George Launtz, had his arm broken by a ball. Reportedly Launtz killed the attacker who wounded him.
The soldiers fought back. The battle lasted from daybreak until midmorning. The Native Americans then retreated, killing some sheep on their way. As soon as the Native Americans disappeared, one of the soldiers crawled out through the roof of the cabin and went for assistance. The day before, Captain Martin had agreed to call at the Copus cabin the same evening with a number of soldiers and remain all night. But he and his soldiers, having been scouting all day and finding no signs of Native Americans, concluded that all apprehensions of danger were frivolous, therefore neglected to appear as agreed. He had encamped on the Black Fork and reached the Copus' cabin by late morning. On approaching the cabin, he and his soldiers attended to the wounded. Search was made for the Native Americans but they were not found. On the 70th anniversary a monument was put up at the site of the killings.
- A. A. Graham "A History of Richland County" 1880.
- H.Howe's "Historical Collections of Ohio" Volume 1 .pp. 258–259 1907
- The Johnny Appleseed Outdoor Drama includes the Copus Massacre, although it has been embellished considerably.