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Battle of Dryfe Sands

During the sixteenth century the Johnstones and the Maxwells competed for primacy in the Scottish West March.  Johnstone and Maxwell chiefs each served at various times as Wardens of the Scottish West March. Their respective clans continued a deadly blood feud for almost a century.  In late 1593 John, seventh Lord Maxwell, Earl of Morton, and Warden of the Scottish West March, assembled 2,000 armed horsemen and, displaying the King's banner, invaded the mountainous district of Annandale, land of the Johnstones.  Whatever the official reason, Lord Maxwell's personal intention was once and for all to destroy his family's ancient enemies and rivals for power in southwestern Scotland.

Sir James Johnstone of Dunskellie, Chief of the Johnstones, received advance warning of the approaching army and realized that his clan would soon have a desperate fight for continued existence.  He summoned help from Grahams, Scotts, Carrutherses, Irvings, Elliots, Bells and others, and quickly raised a force of perhaps 800.  Lord Maxwell had offered his followers a reward for the head or hand of the Laird of Johnstone, and Sir James in turn offered his followers a reward for the head or hand of Lord Maxwell.

All through the feud between the Maxwells and the Johnstones, the Carruthers family at Holmains played a considerable role in support of the Maxwells.  However, no evidence has been provided that they fought at Dryfe Sands.  It could have been that, since George Carruthers, 2nd Baron Holmains had just died the previous year, his successor John Carruthers, previously known as John Carruthers of Harthwat and Rammerscales, had lived near the Johnstones while he was at Harthwat and Rammerscales.  In any event, it was the Carruthers of Dormont who went to the Johnstones aid. 

On December 6, 1593, the Maxwell army approached the Johnstone town of Lockerbie near a place called Dryfe Sands. Sir James kept most of his men hidden, but sent a handful of horsemen to provoke the Maxwell vanguard, then retreat. When the vanguard broke ranks in pursuit with loud cries of victory, the main body of Johnstones made a sudden, desperate charge, catching the Maxwells off guard and driving the disorganized vanguard into the main force. The Johnstones then savagely pursued their enemies into the streets of Lockerbie and into the Water of Dryfe, slaughtering some 700 of the Maxwells and slashing others with downward sword strokes which caused gruesome facial wounds known as "Lockerbie licks."

In the midst of the carnage Lord Maxwell begged for mercy and offered to surrender, but the Johnstones cut off his outstretched arm and slew him. It is said that the Laird of Johnstone affixed the head and right hand of Lord Maxwell to the battlements of Lochwood Tower as bloody trophies of the Johnstones' overwhelming victory at the Battle of Dryfe Sands.

In a Respite granted December 24, 1594, by King James VI to Sir James Johnstoun and 160 others for the slaughter of John, Lord Maxwell the Warden in December 1593, "Christie Carrutheris of Dormont" and "Hobie Carrutheris his brother" are mentioned.


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