On the spring day of 22 March 1824 a series of murders took place that wiped out nine people, four of them children ten years and younger. Nearly a forgotten incident, its history is only preserved in a few documents, without which, it would have disappeared forever.
But this story is notable beyond the human tragedy of yet another massacre of American Indians. This case is remarkable that the murders were taken seriously enough to bring the men to justice and, further, to find them guilty. This was unprecedented, never before had white men been tried (let alone convicted) for murdering any Indian. It is true that there were concerns revolving about safety and securitywhether there would be reprisals for the unprovoked attackand it was admitted during trial that the action needed to be taken to satisfy the people of the victims, but it is also clear from the "transcripts"1 that part of the outrage at the acts was based on the belief that an Indian was a human being, a "son of Adam, our common father" (1), worthy of rights (though almost certainly narrowly defined) that are enjoyed by whites. It was an admission that, sadly, was also "lost" to history.
Spring in Indiana, 1824
Madison County was relatively new and the village of Pendleton, small with scattered houses. It was still a frontier area for the most part, full of deep green woods and abundant game. There was a party of peaceful Indians living in the area and taking advantage of the excellent trapping and hunting opportunities. The men went out hunting game and the women would set traps and cook. There were three men, Logan, a Seneca subchief; Ludlow, and M'Doal.2 Logan, according to the Bloomington Indiana Gazette (13 November 1824) was "a person of great distinction and greatly esteemed among the Senecas," a "venerable old chief, whose name ought to have been his passport and protection from Maine to Georgia, and from the Mississippi to the Atlantic" and "A friend of the white men" (1). M'Doal would be the only survivor of the group because he was not in camp when the massacre took place. He did show up while the women and children were being killed and was wounded as he fled. There were three women (always identified as "squaws") and four children, two boys about ten years old and two girls who were younger. The Indians camped between Fall Creek and Deer Lick Creek. They caused no one any trouble and had no quarrel with the citizens sharing the land. It was still a big bountiful country, room for all.
On that fateful day, five men approached the camp where the men were sitting around the fire. James Hudson, Thomas Harper,3 John Bridge, Jr., John Bridge, Sr., and Andrew Sawyer (who might have been the brother of Bridge, Sr.'s second wife). Another manboy, really, he was 17 or 18 (then again, Bridge, Jr., was about the same age)came with Jr. and Hudson to kill Logan. He would be the only witness for the prosecution. The men told the Indians that they had lost their horses and needed help recapturing them. Suspecting nothing, the Indians agreed to go with them to find the phantom horses. They split up, Harper going after Ludlow and Hudson following Logan at a distance. They traveled deeper into the woods. After they went a ways, Harper shot Ludlow in the back. The Seneca fell, face first to the ground, dead. The sound of the rifle shot in the distance was like a signal and Hudson did the same, the shot hitting the man between the shoulders and exiting through his chest. He fell dead. The men then regrouped and returned to the camp.
Just close enough to be in gunshot range, Sawyer shot one of the women in the head. She dropped to the ground. Dead. The Bridges each shot one of the remaining women; two more bodies fell. Sawyer tried to hit one of the boys (supposedly the oldest) but only wounded him. The rest of the children were then picked off by the men. They moved into the camp. Rectifying his mistake, Sawyer grabbed the wounded boy by the legs and swung his head into a log until he was dead. They then proceeded to loot the camp of anything of value. Harper took what he'd stolen and left the territory. He was rumored to have headed to Ohio. He would never be seen again despite a reward that reached $225. The others were arrested.
The killings scared the residents who feared Indian reprisal, especially from the Seneca. In order to diffuse a potentially hostile situation, the Indian Agent from Ohio came out and investigated the story, sending a report back to the War Department in Washington, DC. He also spoke to the various local tribes, promising justice for the murders. The Indians agreed to refrain from any action until they saw if the Agent's government would keep its word (they likely would have exacted revenge had the trials not taken place and the crimemostlypunished).
The first trial was against Hudson, held that October (charged with killing Logan). The defendant came in, "pale, haggard, and downcast," the jury described as "hardy, honest people, wearing moccasins, and side knives." The defense tried to "[appeal] to the prejudice of the jury against the Indians," speaking of past massacres against white people, including women and children, as well as other incidents that had taken place in the history of the nation, including during war (that this is attempting to assign guilt by association/collective guilt to all the many bands and tribes may have been more persuasive in the 1820s, though similar practices are hardly unknown today). The state used the bloodstained clothes of the victims in its closing argument, adding the concern that if the crime went unpunished, Indians might take the matter into their own hands (a submerged fear of the same collective response being used against the residents). The tactic reportedly had great effect on the jury and audience. The judge then reminded them of the letter of the law concerning homicide and pointed out that "the law knew no distinction as nation or color; that the murder of an Indian was equally as criminal in law as the murder of a white man" (2).
The verdict was returned the following morning. Guilty and a sentence of hanging. His defense appealed to the State Supreme Court (which would deny the appeal on all counts). Meanwhile, Hudson managed to escape from the guards and was later found hiding out under the floor of an abandoned cabin (one source says a hollow log). During the ten days of hiding, he became sick and suffered severe frostbite to his feet. He was brought back for justice. While he awaited passage of sentence, he read his bible, met with relatives, and wrote to his wife asking her to attend the execution with the children. She replied but returned to Ohio before the hanging. On the appointed day (almost a year to the day of the massacre), he had to be brought on a wagon because of the damage the frostbite had done. Under watch of a large crowd and attending members of the Seneca, Hudson was hanged on a gallows built above the falls. The body dangled for 35 minutes before he was taken down. He was the first white man hanged for crimes against an Indian.
The other trials were held over for the next court session. Sawyer was first, charged with the death of one of the women and one of the children. He was found guilty of manslaughter and given two years hard labor and fined $100. He was then immediately charged in the death of one of the boys. The verdict would have been the same but, in the closing, a prosecutor lifted the blood-soaked shirt of the boy saying
Yes, gentlemen of the Jury, the cases are very different. You might find the prisoner guilty of only manslaughter, in using his rifle on a grown squaw; that was the act of a man, but this was the act of a demon. Look at this shirt, gentlemen, with the bloody stains upon it; this was a poor, helpless boy, who was taken by the heels by this fiend in human shape, and his brains knocked out against a log! If the other case was manslaughter, is not this murder? (2)
The jury was reportedly moved to tears and shortly returned with a first degree murder verdict. For that, he would be sentenced to hang.
Next were the trial of the Bridges. Both went quickly and returned verdicts of first degree murder and sentences of execution. There were motions for a new trial but were denied. On the day of the sentence, Bridge, Sr., and Sawyer were taken to the gallows while the crowds and Bridge Jr. They were hanged, dying without struggle. Seneca in attendance supposedly said "We are satisfied" (2). After an hour, the bodies came down. It was Bridge, Jr.'s turn. But things would be different for him.
After the verdict and sentencing, a petition was circulated asking for a pardon for the younger Bridge on account of "his youth, ignorance, and the manner which he was led into the transaction" (1). There were 94 signatures on the petition, including the coroner, the court clerk, a minister, a journalist, one of the prison guards, and some of the members of the jury. The result of the petition was unknown until the rope was being put around his throat. Before the signal to commence the hanging could be given, a cheer arose from the crowd and a man came riding forward to the gallows.
"Sir, do you know in whose presence you stand?" Bridge shook his head. "There are but two powers known to the law that can save you from hanging by the neck until you are dead, dead, dead; one is the great God of the Universe, the other is J. Brown Ray, Governor of the State of Indiana; the latter stands before you..." Handing over the written pardon, the governor announced, "you are pardoned." (1)
That ended the massacre of Fall Creek. Hardly perfect justice and partly driven by concerns of potential Indian attack or other reprisal, it still stands as the first time white men were held accountable to the killing of peopleand an admission that they were peoplethey undoubtedly felt were barely human.
Some words from the bench
From the judge's sentencing statement of Hudson:
How could you deprive your brother man (for Indian Logan was your brother) of that life which God gave him, and which was as dear to him as is yours to you? How could you do a deed at which NATURE stood aghast, and at the recital whereof the soul sickens? Did you do it in revenge for some fancied or real injury? Did you persuade yourself that because he was an Indian it would be less criminal to take away his life than that of a white man? Do you still persist in applying to your conscience any such balsam?
Logan, although an Indian, is a son of Adam, our common father. Then surely he was not the natural enemy of white men. He as bone of your bone & flesh of your flesh. Besides, by what authority do we vauntingly boast of our being white? What principle of philosophy or of religion establishes the doctrine that a white skin is preferable in nature or in the sight of God to a red or black one? Who has ordained that men of the white skin shall be at liberty to shoot and hunt down men of the red skin, or exercise rule and dominion over those of the black? The Indians of America have been more "sinned against than sinning." Our fore fathers came across the broad Atlantic, and taking advantage of their fears and their simplicity obtained a resting place among the Indians, then the 'lords of the soil,' and since that time by a series of aggressions, have taken from them their homes and firesideshave pressed them westwardly until they are nearly extinct. We have introduced among them diseases and vice; we have done to them wrongs which cry to Heaven for vengeance, and which have, in many instances, brought down upon us a severe retribution. Our government has indeed always of late years treated them as an independent people, and have purchased their soil for valuable considerations, but those treaties and purchases have generally been made, either after some great victory while the Indians were humbled by recent defeat, or when our population was pressing upon them, and they were, as it were, beat back by the "tide of emigration"
Of course there is still the paternalism/patronization and ingrained sense of superiority to the Indian:
Certain it is, that, under the influence of the wily arts of the enemies to our government, they have made war upon us, and contrary to the rules of civilized warfare, have failed to exempt from the effects of their rage unoffending women and children, and even the unresisting prisoner has been sacrificed to their vengeance. Such is the manner in which all savage nations make war. They are not at least guilty of making invidious distinctions to our prejudice, for they make war in the same manner upon one another. If they are savage, as we affect to call them, what more could we expect from them? We, as a civilized and Christian people, ought not to retaliate even when smarting under the remembrance of a recent outrage. How much less should we make a savage and unprovoked warfare, in times of perfect tranquility, upon a friendly, unsuspecting Indian, who, by visiting our territory, had made himself as it were our guest.(1)
Again, hardly perfect but a step in the right direction. And striking, considering it was written in 1824. Already too late for the nine innocents.
1Really a bit of a misnomer, as the actual records were lost when the courthouse burned down years later. The information comes from witnesses writing years later. Without those few pages of sources, the incident might well have disappeared from human knowledge.
2One account only mentions two men, Ludlow (called the "principal chief") and another "man I call Mingo" (2), the latter being Logan.
3Harper may have been the only one with a clear (though tangential) motive. It is thought that he may have had a brother who died in the Raisin Creek massacre. It was an incident that was part of the War of 1812. Following an engagement with British and Indian troops, the American forces surrendered. The next day, Indians, angry about losses incurred during the fighting, attacked and killed at least 60 wounded soldiers prisoners. It would later become a battle cry ("Remember the Raisin!"). Of course this could be a coincidence (or inaccurate) and may have no bearing on why Harper instigated the attack. Other than that possibilityrevenge/hatred of Indians: he was said to have stated that "it was no worse to kill an Indian than to kill a deer" (1)there seems no certain motive for the killings (at least listing in the sources).
1. One source lists a Peter Jones, who is said to have been a "neighbor involved in the search for the horses; Refused to allow the wounded Indian woman into his house" (1). Neither source says anything further about him or explains the discrepancy with a "wounded Indian woman."
2. The Conner Prairie Museum in Indiana holds reenactments of the trial of Hudson each year.
3. Novelist Jessamyn West wrote a fictionalized account (The Massacre at Fall Creek) of the events in 1975.
(1) "The Fall Creek Massacre" www.connerprairie.org/historyonline/fallcreek.html
(2) "The Fall Creek Massacre" www.geocities.com/Heartland/Prairie/3226/FallCreek/fallcreek.html, originally from An Illustrated History of the State of Indiana (1975) by Oliver Hampton Smith.