Chief Benge: A Real “Indian Outlaw”

Robert Benge, also called “Chief Benge,” was a notorious enemy of the settlers in Southwestern Virginia and surrounding areas. He remains an enigmatic figure today and conflicting accounts of his life continue to raise more questions than provide any answers. While know for brutality and even cannibalism, in one instance, this strange figure was also recorded as having a sense of honor.

Writers of the era cited Benge for having remarkable strength and endurance. He was a fast runner who was stealthy and couldn’t be tracked. He was known for his physical size as well as attractiveness.

It is believed Benge was born sometime around 1760, in the Cherokee Village of Toquo. This was on the Little Tennessee River in Southeastern Tennessee. Benge’s use of a double-identity made him one of the deadliest and most proficient raiders known. While raised as a Cherokee, Benge had an Irish father named John Benge, and from all physical appearance looked just like a red-headed European settler. His fluent grasp of English also aided him in his mission.

He was said to have held an above-average intelligence, which is no real surprise as historians suggest that his half-brother was the Cherokee intellect Sequoyah. Sequoyah devised the very first Cherokee alphabet.

One of the first accounts of Benge’s brutality was attacking the Scott Family in Lee County, Virginia. In June of 1785, a group of 13 natives broke down their cabin door during the night. The patriarch of the family, Archibald, was shot and killed. Their four children were tomahawked and scalped. For some reason, Fannie, Archibald’s wife, was spared and carried away with them. It was all for naught as the group left her with an elder to steal horses days later and she escaped.

In 1791, Benge sets his eyes on Southwestern Virginia and begins to raid the homesteaders there. Five other natives join him in his quest. In Russell County, two white men were killed while a boy and a woman were captured in an August raid.

The Elisha Ferris house was hit next a few days later. Four whites were killed, Mrs. Ferris, her daughter Mrs. Livingston, a small child and Nancy Ferris, Elisha’s 19-year-old daughter were taken. All, but Nancy, were viciously murdered within 1 day of captivity.

In January of 1793, another ambush was made at a spring on the road between Nashville and Kentucky. Two men, known as Mr. Burnett and Captain Overall, were carrying supplies for the settlers. Both men were killed and scalped, but this time, the native group actually consumed them. Benge took part in the cannibalism.

The raids continued, Benge even got into the slave trade by stealing settlers slaves and selling them elsewhere. However, the fighting came to an end on April 29, 1794. A Lieutenant Hobbs shot Benge and sent his scalp to the Governor of Virginia and requested a gun for the feat. The General Assembly of Virginia sent him a silver-mounted rifle.


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6 thoughts on “Chief Benge: A Real “Indian Outlaw”

  • February 6, 2014 at 4:28 pm

    Ms. Wright, It is with interest that I read your article on Chief Bob Benge…. My husband ‘s 9th great-grandmother was Sarah Ware Livingston.. It is our family that was the last to be raided by Benge..

    • February 6, 2014 at 6:08 pm

      Hello, Ann. Thank you for visiting. I’m delighted you enjoyed the article. He was quite a character that isn’t really talked about, certainly nothing like you would think. From what I found during my research, he was discussed in a romantic way for a century after his death. After that, his attacks seem to be just forgotten.

      • February 6, 2014 at 6:52 pm

        Benge has never been forgotten in my family even after all this time.. People do romanticize about the past but for those who endured those hardships it must have been sheer terror that we in the 21st century can’t possibly even imagine….

        • February 6, 2014 at 11:02 pm

          I would imagine not. One of the worst factors when people like Benge are forgotten, is their victims are also forgotten, and the killers become glamorized and glorified until they become fictional.

  • May 24, 2014 at 10:45 am

    Laura, I came across this site when researching my husband’s family. Robert Benge was his 4th great grandfather, and what a surprise it was to us to read what a despicable person he was. We knew there was Indian in the family history, but had to idea it was one with such notoriety. Even though it was so long ago, it make one want to say “I am so sorry for what was done to your families”, and I feel we are. You never know what you’ll find when searching family history. I have ancestors on my side that died at the hands of Indians in Oregon. These people, the good & the bad are part of this great countries history.

    • May 25, 2014 at 2:33 pm

      Hello, Fay! Thank you so much for visiting. Please don’t feel bad. None of us have ever asked for our ancestors and we can’t pick them any more than we can relatives. You have a beautiful message though, thank you so much for sharing it. I am not related to him, or any of his victims, although I am in southwestern VA, so there are many spots where he visited. I am in no way excusing what he did, but I think Benge came from a horrible childhood that was filled with hatred for Europeans. He was only half-Indian, his father was Irish (I think that’s where the disdain came from). Benge lived in what we call a “broken home,” where both parents had multiple spouses and illegitimate children. That was hundreds of years ago, so I’m sure people were very different about that than they are today. His father actually had 2 full families, until he was found out, and the first European family had nothing more to do with him. His father had no choice, but to remain with the natives because he’d disgraced himself and his family among the settlers.


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