By Hillary Delaney
Small, scenic Laughery Island rests in the Ohio River between Boone and Dearborn counties. The island has an interesting and dark history, beginning with the tragedy which befell its namesake, Revolutionary War officer, Colonel Archibald Lochry. Though the discrepancy in spelling can be attributed to confusion or colloquial modification, the island’s name remains a tribute to a massacre.
In August, 1781, Lochry and his men, numbering near 100, were traveling down the Ohio River trying to catch up with General George Rogers Clark and his men, whom they were to join. Near what we now know as Laughery Creek, they were ambushed by Joseph Brant and his war party, comprised of British loyalists and Native American warriors aligned with them. The attackers, hidden along riverbank and on the island, pounced and forty men were killed, including General Lochry; the rest were taken prisoner. Any physical remains of the battle are long gone, but the darkness may yet linger.
Over the years, Laughery Island has been the site of a number of violent and tragic events. In the overnight hours of August 6th, 1874, Louisville steamboat Pat Rogers, carrying a load of highly flammable cotton and fifty passengers or more, caught fire. As the flaming vessel neared the island, it began to come apart, its chimney toppling and its flaming wheels becoming detached from the burning vessel as it ran aground on Laughery Island. Terrified passengers, were hanging from the side of the boat their nightclothes on fire; others jumped into the water. Estimates of casualties numbered between fifteen and twenty five souls.
The steamboat Mountain Girl, carrying performers, workers and animals of a small circus, was heading downriver on the Kentucky side in 1884. The opposite approach of another boat, the J.W. Goff was anticipated by the usual signal of a horn blast. Unexplainably, the Mountain Girl began to stray toward the Indiana bank, putting it right in the path of the larger Goff. The two boats collided, resulting in loss of the lives of two of the circus workers, ten horses and a number of snakes.
Death on the island also came from above. In 1927, a stunt pilot and two passengers were enjoying a regatta on the river below, when the pilot lost control and crashed on the edge of Laughery Island, killing both passengers and injuring the pilot.
Within two years of the tragic plane crash, a young party-goer attempted to swim across the river from Indiana to Kentucky, but drowned as he neared the island. His fate was repeated by several drowning victims who washed ashore on Laughery Island over the years. Other violence also touched the idyllic spot on the river. The near-skeletal remains of a victim of foul play was also found on the island, having floated over 150 miles before coming to rest on Laughery Island.
In fairness, not all visitors to the now-private island have suffered bad luck. It’s been the site of a vineyard, numerous river excursions and picnics, and a well-attended prize-fight in 1860.
Read more about Lochry's defeat here