For most of 1307 and 1308, James Douglas fought primarily in Douglasdale. His actions were essential in tying up significant English manpower and resources in the south, leaving Robert the Bruce free to campaign in the north. He soon created a formidable reputation for himself as a soldier and tactician using the cover of Selkirk Forest as a base from which to mount highly effective mobile attacks against the enemy. He also became utterly ruthless, particularly in his relentless attacks against the English garrison who occupied his own Douglas Castle.
At the time of the incident which became known as the Douglas Larder, the Scottish freedom fighters were not yet established in the south-west. Indeed, Douglas was the only one of Bruce's men active anywhere in the area and this was the first major act toward reclaiming south west Scotland.
With the help of local farmer, Thomas Dickson, a former vassal of his father, Douglas and his small band were hidden until the morning of Palm Sunday, when the English garrison who occupied Douglas Castle left the battlements to attend the local church. Gathering local support he entered the church seeking vengeance. In the brutal fight which followed, some of the English soldiers were killed and the rest taken prisoner. The prisoners were taken to the castle, now largely empty. Knowing that another English force would be sent to occupy the castle, Douglas ordered that all the stores that could not be carried away and used be piled together in the cellar. The wine casks were burst open and the wood used for fuel. The prisoners were then beheaded and placed on top of the pile which was subsequently set alight. Before departing, he ensured the wells were poisoned with salt and the carcases of dead horses.
The local people soon gave the whole gruesome episode the name of the 'Douglas Larder.' It was meant to leave a lasting impression of intent for the English soldiers who soon came to replace their dead colleagues.
This may seem a barbaric act to our modern day sensibilities, but James lived in a savage time. His father had been imprisoned and killed through maltreatment in the Tower of London by order of the English King, Edward. He himself had been disinherited and left homeless. News had only recently reached the Scots forces of the brutal hanging, beheading and butchery of Robert Bruce’s three brothers, Neil, Thomas and Alexander. Bruce's queen, daughter, two sisters and Isabella MacDuff were also captured in a sanctuary at Tain and sent into harsh imprisonment. Indeed Mary, one of Bruce’s sisters, and Isabella were suspended in open cages in all weathers from castle walls for four years. James knew each of these people extremely well and his hatred of the invaders must have subsequently become intense.
Further, repeated attacks followed by a man now known to the English as 'The blak Dowglas', a sinister and murderous force "mair fell than wes ony devill in hell." Soon, the name “Black Douglas” struck fear into the hearts of all he opposed.