“Sufferers’ Land” Post #18 – Crime and Capture

The Portage River was a traditional passage for Indians traveling from the Maumee River to Lake Erie. Around the middle of April, three Indians, Negosheek (Ne-go-sheek), Negonaba (Ne-gon-a-ba) and Negossum (Ne-gos-sum), passed by John and George’s cabin on their way down the river.

Negosheek was the eldest and the leader of the group. He had the reputation of not being able to handle liquor. Negonaba, also an adult, was easily influenced by his friend when drunk. Negossum, being only sixteen or eighteen, was afraid of his older companions, and inclined to do whatever they told him.

The three Indians continued to the mouth of the Portage River where they stayed for several days. They bought whiskey and started back up the river toward their homes. On the way, Negosheek decided they should attack and kill John Wood and George Bishop and steal their furs and other belongings.

Just before dawn on Wednesday, April twenty-first, while the boy Negossum waited outside, the two elder Indians crept into the trappers’ cabin and murdered them in their sleep with tomahawks. When the men were dead, Negosheek called Negossum into the cabin and had him strike one of the bodies on the leg with a hatchet so the boy would feel he had participated in the murders.

The Indians looted the cabin, and after hiding some of the murdered trappers’ possessions along a nearby creek and selling their furs, they started for home. On the way, they encountered a half-breed Indian named Chazee traveling down the river, and told him what they had done. Chazee stopped at Bishop and Wood’s cabin and found their bodies. He continued to the mouth of the river and told Charles Tupper, a constable who lived there, about the murders.

Judge Truman Pettibone, the Justice of the Peace in Danbury Township, issued a warrant of arrest for the Indians, and Charles raised a posse to pursue them. The posse tracked them to a village on the Miami River and the Indians living there turned the three suspects over to them.

The posse returned to Danbury Township, where Judge Pettibone questioned the Indians with the assistance of an interpreter named John Flemmond. Convinced of their guilt, he sent them on to the County Seat in Norwalk to stand trial.

The arrival of the Indians created quite a stir among the inhabitants of Norwalk and the surrounding vicinity. One can imagine Platt and other men of the village visiting the jail to see the prisoners. Seeing face to face these men who had committed murder raised fears of further raids, and enhanced the terror that Sally Benedict had felt when visited by an Indian late at night.

It is a testimony to the sense of fairness and the importance of the rule of law to the Connecticut pioneers that they did not attempt to lynch the three Indians. Many conflicts between Native Americans and settlers ended when mobs of angry men took the law into their own hands. In this case, however, the record is clear that the settlers were determined to give the prisoners a fair trial. There was no rush to judgment, and guilt and innocence was determined after careful consideration of the facts. However, before that could happen, the Benedicts, along with the rest of their neighbors, were in for a scare. [1]

Please like this post and let me know what you think in the comments. Thank you.

GO TO NEXT POST – A Comedy of Errors

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[1] The account of the murders of John Wood and George Bishop and the capture of their killers is from an article by W.C. Allen in The Firelands Pioneer, June 1865, pp. 43-52.

© 2009 by David W. Barton. All rights reserved

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