I drove off the interstate at Bland, turned the opposite direction from town, and headed down one of the most pastoral roads in Southwest Virginia. Off in the distance was Big Walker Mountain. Between it and me were scores of rolling bluegrass hills. The road was one of the better crooked roads of the region. You could maintain 55 if you wanted to, but, really, why would you want to?
Soon I was at the fork, and bore right toward Ceres, rounding the curve by the Methodist Church, and suddenly found myself in some of the prettiest farming country there is anywhere. A few miles down this road and you see a sign “Sharon Springs.” This is the place where some of my family (at least I’ve been told they were my family) were minding their own business one day when some people approached them with evil intent.
The year was 1774. Or some say 1784. Or some time in between. No one knows for sure. But the story was told over and over, all up and down the valley, across the hills to Wytheville, up over Burkes Garden to Tazewell. In fact it’s been told in lots of places. The “Massacre of the Sluss Family.” These were the days when European settlers were pouring into the area we know today as Southwest Virginia. But it was a time when the native American people (who were called “indians” by Europeans) were getting their dander up because people were entering their territory, treaties were going unobserved, and some of their people had been killed in ways they considered unjust. It was probably during Lord Dunmore’s War, in 1774 or shortly thereafter. They say the group were Shawnees, but they could have been Mingos or they could have been any group of so-called “indians.” They were angry and they were out for blood.
The Sluss family were German immigrants. The progenitor of the family had come over more than likely in the 1730s, from the Palatinate region of what we call Germany today. He might have been called Schlosser or Sloss, or Sloas, or Sluss. But he was determined to make his way in this new, free country. More than likely he had encountered the famous “Golden Book” which was aimed at selling America to Germans, telling audacious tales of how easy it was to get land and make your fortune in this new world.
Tradition says the family were Lutheran, and even though they had settled in Sharon Springs, they were known to walk over toward Wytheville to the St Paul Church where they worshiped, and walk back home. This was a trip of several miles one way. On their mountain farm they had built a comfortable cabin of logs, and surrounded it with a rail fence. Nearby were fields where they were trying to raise the food and grain they needed to survive the winter. Going about daily chores, just usual stuff, they were happy enough, though always on guard for any threat to the family from man or beast. The woman of the house had just put one of the youngest children to bed, sliding her in the crib under a high bed in the corner of the room so the flies wouldn’t bother her while she slept. This act, according to the tradition, would be life saving, as the intruders wouldn’t be aware of her presence when they came to murder their enemy settlers.
They came seemingly from nowhere. Two men, with tomahawks. Seeing them, the older girls start screaming an alarm. One tells her little brother Jimmy to run for the fence. She helps him over the rails, and gets stabbed hard in the back with a tomahawk. The boy gets away, but at least two sisters are now dead. The men enter the main house and in the scuffle that follows, they do irreparable damage to the children’s mother. She survives that day, but dies a few days later from the injuries. The baby escaped harm by being so well camouflaged.
The men were across the hill from the house working in a field just out of sight. When Jimmy gets to them with the news, they come running to save their beloved family. The father gets killed by the brutal attackers.
The family is reeling from the effect of the surprise attack, but the attackers escape to their homes and families unharmed.
If you go to the Sharon Lutheran Church (which was built much later), there is in the cemetery a large monument to the Sluss family. But people say that the old home place is visible in the spring when the narcissus and Star of Bethlehem flowers bloom in the fields near Sharon Springs.