George Bowers Sr.: Facing terror with courage

George Bowers Sr.

Imagine your parents being savagely murdered in the doorway of your home while other family members are brutally gunned down or hacked to death. Although this sounds like a recent news report from Syria, Iraq or even France, this took place right here in the Shenandoah Valley 250 years ago this month. Thankfully, a young teenager escaped or I wouldn’t be writing this column today. In fact, I wouldn’t be anywhere today for she became my great, great, great, great grandmother.

John Rhodes (or Roads) immigrated to the U.S. from Switzerland in 1728 and settled in what is now Page County roughly two years later. He was a peaceful non-resistant Mennonite minister who built a home and established quite a farm on the west bank of the South Fork of the Shenandoah River. He and his wife, Eve Albright Rhodes, had thirteen children who were vitally necessary for the care of their crops and livestock.

One unknown August day in 1766 (some say 1764) eight Native Americans purportedly led by a white man suddenly appeared and immediately began wreaking havoc. John was shot standing in the doorway of his home and Eve was killed in the yard along with one of her sons. Another son had been working in the cornfield about 150 yards away and, hearing the commotion, climbed a pear tree to see what was going on, only to be spotted and shot dead. His brother, who had been working beside him, ran for the river in an attempt to swim to safety, but he was gunned down in the water giving the location the name it still bears today, Bloody Ford.

The murderers proceeded to burn the house and kidnap four young children killing three of them as they fled up the Massanutten toward Kennedy’s Peak. One son, Michael, survived among the Indians and later became a revolutionary soldier.

In the midst of the mayhem, John and Eve’s teenage daughter, Elizabeth, grabbed her seventeen-month-old sister, Esther, and ran to the barn. She was spotted and pursued, but her assailant was unable to gain entry for she thankfully had the wherewithal to slide the latch behind her. Frustrated, he returned to the now-burning house to get fire. As he did so, Elizabeth, with Esther in her arms, escaped out the back of the barn through some loose boards and carried her 12 miles through a hemp field to their neighbors, as their temporary refuge went up in flames behind them. Both girls grew to adulthood and raised families of their own. Elizabeth eventually married Jacob Gochenour Jr. and became an ancestor of several thousand people living today throughout the valley and across the nation, including myself.

Altogether, John and Eve and six of their children entered eternity that summer day at the hands of their merciless attackers. Other children were thankfully away from home and seven survived the harrowing ordeal.

As I’ve reflected on what had to be an unbelievably traumatic event in her life, I am greatly moved by Elizabeth’s courage and heroism. Instead of freezing up and being slaughtered with the others, she thought quickly in order to save herself. Most compelling was her risk in rescuing her baby sister without whom she could have unquestionably traveled more quickly and quietly. Although I carry some of her genes, I pray I carry her bravery to act with equal fortitude if it is ever required of me.

Two hundred and fifty years later, we again face terror. Though the perpetrators are different, the origin is the same, for all murder comes from the evil one. As we face our challenges today, we can learn from the courage, resolve and quick thinking of this youngster years ago. We must not be paralyzed with either fear or hatred but act quickly and wisely to secure our own safety as well as that of those who cannot save themselves. We must rise above past hurts and move on to live the rest of our lives with confidence and grace.

Eventually, Elizabeth and Esther joined their parents and siblings in death as we all one day will. I pray that we’ll be prepared for that moment by depending on the sacrificial rescue of Jesus who died providing salvation for all who will accept it. It would have been much easier and more comfortable for him to let us perish in the flames, but thankfully he picked us up and carried us out of the tomb with him.

Oh God, help us all to emulate the courage, resolve and quick thinking of this brave young lady and let us accept Jesus’ merciful rescue of us. Thankful for Grandma Elizabeth’s courage and Jesus’ sacrifice, George

“Apple-style-span”>George Bowers Sr. is the senior pastor of Antioch Church of the Brethren in Woodstock and the author of seven books, including his devotional collection, “Blessings.” He can be reached through or at