Massacre by David Macfie

Note that this story is a fictional dramatization of a real life event. Accordingly, only some of the information is factual.

 Alexander MacDonald, the youngest son of the 12th leader of the Glencoe Maclains, a branch of the MacDonald clan, crept to the top of the rocky outcrop that would let him to oversee the glen on the other side of the hill. Rumors were circulating that his people were under threat from their ancient enemy, the Campbells. And, there were many Campbells in the army units that were billeted with MacDonald families in the glen. They’d arrived out of nowhere and claimed hospitality under the Highland Code, because the Fort William garrison was full. Even their Captain was a Campbell – Robert of Glenlyon, but he was almost family. His niece was Alexander’s wife. And, because of this relationship, Robert Campbell was even billeted with his father, Alasdair MacIean. And the soldiers had been in the glen for ten days, now, and all had been quiet. In spite of this, Alasdair was suspicious that the army units were there for a more sinister reason and had thought to spy on them from the outcrop.

But when the young man got there, nothing seemed out of the ordinary. The six score of troops were spread out between the families in the glen and there were no outward signs of trouble. Still it was best to be wary so Alexander stayed for a while, observing the activity below. When he headed home, late in the afternoon, the only thing that had happened that was different from the last few days, was the arrival of a Captain Drummond, who was bearing orders for Robert from his commanding officer.

The orders were passed confidentially to Robert, and little did the MacDonalds’ know of their contents. The evening was absolutely normal, with the officers being entertained by their hosts, and everyone retired at the usual hour. At five the following morning the glen rang to the sound of gunfire and Alexander leapt out of bed and quickly donned his clothes. As he rushed to the door of his cottage, he saw many soldiers carrying their rifles with bayonets fixed. He could hear screams and knew that there was killing going on. For reasons he didn’t understand at the time, some or all of the soldiers had turned on their hosts and were murdering them. Alexander even saw some of his people running for the hills, with soldiers in hot pursuit. He didn’t know what to do, so he ran to his father’s room, only to find that Alasdair had been one of the first to be killed. His mother had been stripped and raped and someone had bitten off her finger to steal her gold ring. She was still alive, but so badly hurt by the cruel treatment she’d received that she died shortly after he found her.

He fled in a different direction than the one most of the MacDonalds were using. He found cover in a copse of brambles and gorse on a nearby hill. His brother ran towards the same hill a little later and the two were reunited, to the great relief of both. Before they’d even completed their greetings, the troops were already moving out of the glen, leaving all the homes in flames and taking all the livestock with them. Once all was quiet Alexander and his brother crept back to the glen. They moved silently, from burning cottage to burning cottage, keeping close to the ground, and only entered when they were absolutely sure that the soldiers had moved on. At every cottage they found one or two corpses of friends and relatives. Some were still inside, and some had not got far from their front doors. All had been brutally killed and mutilated, with multiple bayonet slashes and stabs, as well as gunshot wounds. In every case, the brothers only had time to count the dead before flames drove them back into the early morning chill. They couldn’t even get in to the last three homes, because of the fires and the count had gotten to twenty five. So, with at least one in each, the death toll must be close to thirty. This meant that more than a hundred and fifty had escaped their homes and run for the hills. The brothers searched for more corpses. They found Duncan Rankin in the River Coe, not far from their father’s house. And they found another ten dead at the obvious escape route from Glencoe to Glen Etive. It was clear that soldiers had been posted there for just that reason.

Now the brothers concentrated on finding survivors. By the end of the day they’d collected twenty two others, but everyone had only managed to get away with the clothes on their back. Their houses were burnt to the ground and all their food destroyed or stolen. And to make matters worse, it was mid-winter and bitterly cold. In the early evening it started to snow and conditions got more and more unpleasant. The group huddled together for warmth, but none managed to sleep. That first night was torture, with grief, despair and anger warring for supremacy. The second night was even worse because hunger was added to the list of miseries. On the third day they came across another group who were moving in the same direction. They joined forces. That group had already lost two to wounds and a third to the conditions. That night the oldest member of the enlarged group succumbed to frostbite and hypothermia. The brothers tried to keep up morale but it was extremely difficult. Travelling was hard because most of the wounded had to be carried. And the nearest help was days away. Another four died in the next three days and the survivors were in bad shape. It took another eight days to reach a friendly village. By then another five had died.

But the village was welcoming. Wounds were tended and hot drinks prepared. All the survivors were put by fires to warm up and everyone was fed. Then the brothers asked for news. Sadly, a village spokesman told them the bad news. Including the deaths from this group of survivors, forty of those who’d managed to escape the killing in Glencoe had died, in the hills, of cold and starvation.

Only much later, did the brothers find out that the whole massacre had been ordered by the English government, who’d decided that the MacDonalds of Glencoe had to serve as an example to all those contemplating rebellion against the English king.