Billy Dragoo

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William (Billy) Dragoo and his mother, Betsy, were captured by a band of Shawnee in October 1786 in western Virginia (now West Virginia). Billy was about 12 years old. Betsy’s husband was away and her brother was killed during the capture. She was pregnant and allowed to ride a horse, but not far from there, the horse bolted and threw her off, breaking her hip. They killed her, took her scalp and continued on.

After crossing the Ohio River, they walked westward to the Muskingum River, which they followed northwest to what later became Zanesville. Then they followed the Licking River, which took them through Black Hand Gorge, the Bowling Green at Marne, and Newark. They continued through Granville, Alexandria and Johnstown. They stopped briefly at the Indian village of Raccoon Town on the west side of Johnstown. Then they passed through Sunbury, Delaware, Marysville and then to their destination at Wapatomica.

Billy was then forced to run the gauntlet through two lines of boys from the tribe. Then, after being threatened by men with tomahawks, he was led to his new mother, who cleaned him up and gave him Indian clothing to wear. His duties in his new family were to collect firewood and water.

Within days, everyone in the village deserted their homes to avoid General Logan and his 800 men who were coming through Ohio burning villages and crops. When they returned, Wapatomica was ashes. Billy was then taken to Detroit with 20 braves to collect supplies from the French. A few days after arriving, Billy was given to an Ottawa chief who took him to Canada. Billy hated this situation, because the chief enjoyed drinking, so when warm weather came, he escaped and returned to his first Indian family. They were happy to see him, but they were preparing to move to the northwest. Since they needed more supplies, they sold Billy to another Ottawa along Lake Erie. This new father had a hole bored through Billy’s nose so that he could wear a ring, which was a common custom among their young men.

In November 1791, all the braves in his new village went off to fight Arthur St. Clair. Billy stayed behind to hunt for the family. In the spring of 1792, two of Billy’s Indian cousins convinced him to get his ears split, which was another custom.

At 19 years old, Billy was urged to take a certain Indian woman as his wife. He went to live with her and her family, which consisted of 12 individuals.

The tribe moved often to find good hunting and avoid bad weather. After 18 years of this life, Billy and his wife had 3 children. He could come and go as he pleased, but by this time, he had no thoughts of returning to his white relatives. In 1804, he needed a new rifle, so he took some pelts he had saved to Pittsburgh to buy one. There, he ran into a man who knew his father and tried to talk him into going back to Virginia to visit, but Billy refused.

Three years later, Billy encountered his own white brother, Ben, at Waterville, Ohio. After an all-night conversation, Ben talked him into meeting him at their other brother’s home along the Licking River at the future site of Irville. Billy kept the appointment. On the way, he spent the night at the cabin of Elias Hughes, first settler of Licking County, who was living north of Newark. Billy arrived at his brother’s home sporting a silver half-moon through his nose and silver ornaments dangling from his split ears. The three brothers stayed there for about three weeks, and then set out for Virginia to see their father. In Virginia, Billy was taken to a revival meeting led by Rev. Levi Shinn, a well-known frontier Methodist preacher.

After getting a good dose of white society as an adult, Billy decided that he had had enough of living as an Indian, and that he would like to bring his Indian family to live in Virginia. He returned to his wife, who had just given birth to their fourth child. Neither she nor anyone in the tribe would listen to his talk of Christianity, but Billy was desperate. He decided to take his two boys with him, leave the two girls with their mother, and return to Virginia.

On the way, they stayed with his brother again at Irville. The Rev. Levi Shinn had moved to Ohio and held a camp meeting nearby, at which Billy was baptized. Then, after two years in Virginia with his father, and now at 40 years old, he married Rebecca Matheny, who was 15. His father gave him 43 acres of land where Billy and Rebecca began their own family. His Indian son, John, stayed with Billy’s father where he became a skilled woodworker.

Sometime after 1819, Billy thought prospects looked better in Ohio than Virginia, so he sold his land and moved to Licking County. Billy’s brother, John, at Irville, had found a good job at Mary Ann Furnace . First, Billy lived on 50 acres on Evans Road in Perry Township, but in 1839 he sold that and moved to Osborn Road in the same township. He built a cabin there that still exists. Interestingly, he never lived on Dragoo Road in between those two locations.

Billy and Rebecca had six children, one of whom was Margaret, who married Abram Orsburn in 1845. That name later evolved into Osborn, from which many families with that name are descended in Licking County.

Accounts from people who knew Billy have survived. They say he was a large, peaceful and religious man. He never completely quit some of his Indian ways and always wore the jewelry in his nose and ears until his death in 1856. He enjoyed hunting, fishing, trapping and farming. He was buried in Pleasant Grove Cemetery in Perry Township where his tombstone can still be seen. [1][2][3][4][5]



  1. Carskadden, Jeff. Where the Frolics and War Dances Are Held, 1997.
  2. Fleming, Dan and Larry Stevens. “Billy Dragoo Lived Here,” in the Licking Valley Ledger, Vol. 9, No. 1, January 2017.
  3. Moody, Minnie Hite. “Indians Took Billy Dragoo,” in the Newark Advocate, February 1966.
  4. Osborn, Delbert. Emails with Dan Fleming, Dec. 2016.
  5. Osborn, Delbert, William (Indian Billy) Dragoo, 1996.