Cadaver dogs, historians search for the dead at Hayes’ Station in Laurens County
Laurens County, South Carolina – Searchers with metal detectors and handlers of cadaver search dogs trained in historical human decay searches were in eastern Laurens County Saturday afternoon, searching for evidence of two mass graves which hold the bodies of militia members slaughtered in 1781 by the notorious “Bloody Bill” Cunningham.
A monument donated in 1910 by the Daughters of the American Revolution includes the names of most of the 18 militia men killed on Nov. 19, 1781, a full month after the final battle of Yorktown essentially had ended the Revolutionary War.
It’s the second monument to mark the site of Hayes’ Station and is on private property. The first monument was made from marble and had been shattered sometime after it was built in the 1850s, said Durant Ashmore, a Revolutionary War historian from Fountain Inn. Ashmore is trying to find the specific locations of the former stagecoach stop, the blacksmith shop and the unmarked graves which were used for the remains of the militia members after they were hacked to death and dismembered by Cunningham and some of his 300 Loyalist followers.
Cunningham and his men forged a path of vengeance and destruction in what is now the South Carolina Midlands and the Upstate, in spite of the fact that Cunningham had been raised in or very near the Little River District and would have known many of the men.
“These militia men were the cream of the crop for Little River District,” Ashmore said of the commander and militia men killed at Hayes’ Station.
They included the leader, Col. Joseph Hayes, who had replaced Col. James Williams after his death at the Battle of King’s Mountain. Williams’ two sons were prime targets for Cunningham, and he hung Daniel, 18, along with Col. Hayes. Daniel’s younger brother, Joseph Williams, 14, was viciously killed by Cunningham. Three of those killed were Irbys, and many of them likely still have family in the area today, Ashmore said. Another militiaman was 16, so the group included three teenagers.
“The story was told that the youngest, Joseph Williams, was distraught about his brother’s death, and said, ‘But how will I tell my mother?’ And Cunningham said, ‘I’ll save you the trouble,’ and ran him through with his sword,” Ashmore said. “He was a terrible person.”
According to Ashmore, Cunningham went into a rage when a pole broke while attempting to hang more of the militia, so he began killing the rest, who were still tied together, with his sword.
“They had already pardoned two of the men, so there were people seeing this to tell about it,” Ashmore said. “He slaughtered them and when he got tired, he ordered his men to continue, so the men were dismembered,” Ashmore said.
After the massacre, a few family members attempted to take bodies of some of the militia men home to bury them, but the remainder were placed in two different graves, and that’s why the South Carolina Search and Rescue Dogs Association were brought to assist in the search.
Some of the dogs are trained specifically to search for the missing, so they are trained to track smells of living humans, said Marion Tisdale, who has a living search dog. However, dogs trained for historical searches, such as for historical cemeteries, are trained using smells of human decay.
Nancy Jocoy of Simpsonville has taken her dog, Beau, to trainings where the animals are certified using bones as old as 700 years.
Beau became very interested in two different locations, and other volunteers with her recorded them via the GPS monitors the dogs wear.
“I’ll be sending in a full report which includes GPS markers for everywhere Beau traveled, where he stopped and where he returned,” Jocoy said.
At one point Beau not only stopped and looked at his handler, but also lay down on the spot, then got up and began digging. She made him stop.
“This is a search, not an excavation,” Jocoy said.
The Search and Rescue volunteers and metal detector volunteers will likely return this summer with an archeologist to get another look, and preferably early in the day.
“The smells rise early in the morning,” Jocoy said, adding that’s when the dogs can best pick up specific smells and locations.
Ashmore plans to return with an archeologist and they’ll use the reports from this weekend to narrow down areas.
It’s important, Ashmore said, because the men need to be honored.
“These were men from the best families in Little River District,” Ashmore said. “They were respected and looked up to when they were alive, and they need to be honored in their death.”
Very interesting. I’m not sure when my Saxons came to Laurens Co. but it was a long time ago. I believe I’m related to Samuel Saxon. Very interesting to me. Thank you
As one of many descendants of the Irby’s killed at Hayes’ Station, and member of the Sons of the American Revolution, I am very excited to see this news and will certainly travel to be a part of anything that should come of this. Like many of this country, our ancestors paid the price for the freedoms so many squander today. Thank you South Carolina.
I am descendent of Lt. Clement Hancock in Texas and this so exciting. Would love for y’all to make a facebook page so we can follow the progress.
Hello distant Cousin. I too am a descendent of Lt Hancock. Would love to compare sources and trees with you!
This terrible man may have been a relative of my Cunningham line. I descend from another male Cunningham from this same area in SC. I hope they find the remains and try to identify. 🙏
Curious as to your Cunningham lineage. My 5th ggrandfather, Robert McKemy, was married to a Sarah Jane Cunningham. They move with some of the Cunningham families from Augusta County, Virginia to 96 District.
Robert was shot and mortally wounded some time in mid to late 1774 with his will being probated in Charleston 27 December of the same year. I’ve been researching the events leading up to him being killed but have not had any success thus far.
Thanks much! As a former SAR dog handler (HRD) the article is extremely interesting. I do hope the searchers all the best in their work.
Descended from Henrietta Irby of Laurens, who was descended from William Irby who had gone for water and was not slaughtered with father Joseph Irby. My Uncle William Irby Coleman died following Bataan Death March in the Philippines at Camp O’Donnell.
James Irby I am the 5th Great Grandson of Joseph Irby Sr. I would love to make your acquaintance. Please email me email@example.com
I am a descendant of Benjamin Goodman who was also killed at Hayes Station and name is on the memorial stone. This story is very interesting and cannot imagine what these guys went through.
When I was just a young boy, my dad and I hiked through the woods until we found the site of Hayes Station. We were there because my dad said we were related to Benjamin Goodman also. He studied it until he passed in 1973. You may be a distant cousin!
Benjamin Goodman and Maria Williams Goodman descendant here also.
Benjamin Lewis Goodman 1732-1781 is my 5th great-grandfather (Samuel Goodman – Samuel Goodman (jr) – Doctor Samuel Goodman – Frank Roswell Goodman – Frank Christian Goodman – Frank Christian Goodman Jr. is my dad.) Benjamin’s wife, Mariah Williams, had two brothers Daniel 18yrs and Joseph 14 yrs that were also slaughtered that day. I’ve also visited the site. It’s a little hard to find and the time I was there, the land nearby was being cleared. From other records I’ve seen on Ancestry, (wills, baptisms, etc) you can surmise that the Williams, Goodmans and Hays’ families were good friends and did life together. It is very sad they also died together. I would like to hear about any updates to this story.
Benjamin Goodman was the brother of my great-great grandfather.
Another of my ancestors was Laughlin Leonard (my 5th ggrandfather), whose name isn’t on the monument
but has appeared in several other accounts of the massacre. The family story is that his wife
(Mary Golding Leonard) came with a wagon to take his body back home for burial.
I am looking forward to the November lecture!!
One of my early Grandfathers, Christopher Hardy, name is on the monument. I would love to follow this story and travel to the site. Thank you for any updates!
I am also a descendant of Lt. Hardy, hey cuz!
Hello Bethany! I also found that Christopher Hardy has a marker at a church about a 35 minute drive from the Hayes Station area. I found his marker at the Chestnut Ridge Baptist Church 499 Chestnut Ridge Rd Laurens SC a few weeks ago.
LCAdvertiser — At the time of this story Durant Ashmore said that a few families of men killed there came and attempted to take their remains back home for burial, but most entombed somewhere on the property near the marker.
My Cunningham and Williams families moved to NW Alabama. They all came from this area of SC. Haven’t been able to connect to Bloody Bill Cunningham yet. What a sad history. I look forward to hearing what is found.
Hi! I am not related to any of the soldiers by blood, but I grew up on and still live on Williams Rd, right next to Hayes Station and as a child growing up was taught and heard all about Bloody Bill Cunningham in fact when they started naming the 911 roads we were asked to name the road after him, but no! We were not having that from such a cruel person. My siblings and I played at the monument , and actually played on the cement porch where a house stood and the well was still there. We also hunted for buried treasure and remember when military soldiers would parachute out of helicopters all around us who were very nice and it was also the first time we saw military food in cans. My families were Williams and Simmons who still live here today. There have also been people all the way from Yellowstone National Park to visit in bus loads. I am 67 now and I still share the monument with my kids and grandkids who are absolutely amazed.
Stumbled across this reading. Very interesting. I was raised in this area. We farmed much of the land adjoining this old stage line road a few miles to the north of the monument location. I have personally been to all these locations and know this area well. The old road (Stage line) was referred to as the road between Clinton and Newberry. I was told as a youngster the area location of the historical marker was not Hayes Station location. The old road bed was very visible when I was a youngster. It was four feet deep in places. The monument area was the battle location. I was told that there was a stage coach station at Milton Crossroads (Intersection of Jefferson Davis Rd. and Milton Rd. roughly one mile as crow flies. The old structure was located to the east side of the Little River Bridge down beside river. I was told that the stage line changed horses at this location. Also in the area to the south of the monument against the little river was known as Hayes Mountain. You can see it from Milton Road while driving. Have been all over that area as a youngster. If it is believed that some of the deceased were buried around the old station, I would check the area at Little River bridge. It is relatively easy to get there. All of these areas are private property and landownership has changed through the years. Please feel free to contact me willing to help.
Benjamin Goodman is my 5x great grandfather. He was married to Mariah Williams and she was the Aunt to the Williams boys. I think one of them killed was also her Brother. We live in Georgia and made it a point to stop at the monument on our way to Charleston. It was kind of hard to find but well worth the trip. My son is currently learning US History and I reminded him we have ancestors that fought for this country at that time.
Through DNA testing I discovered James Henderson Williams was my 5 great-grandfather through his daughter Sarah Williams. He was killed at King Mountain. Sadly this makes Joseph and Daniel my uncles. I have so much more to research. I would like to know. Thanks for the tip about Mariah Williams. I want to look into that for sure.