It was the mid 1700s, and most of the white folks in western Pennsylvania and northern Kentucky were busy hunting, farming, building cabins, or—I don’t know—probably doing a lot of craft projects with pinecones.
It’s fair to say that many of these settlers desired nothing more than their own corner of the world to call home: somewhere they could raise a family, and maybe a place that—if they were lucky—someone would put in a JOANN Fabric store. This is to say, most of these folks had no ill-will toward the American Indians whom they *technically* forced off of the land.
Most, but not all. Some were of a different mind. These were no quiet farmers; no peaceful settlers; no creators of googly-eyed pinecones. These were immoral types with a strong disposition toward violence: men like Daniel and Jacob Greathouse.
Greathouse hated “injens” with such a fervor that oftentimes he would state laconically that he wanted to “go kill a few reds”—and would go out and do just that. He was known by both whites and Indians alike as a rough character you didn’t want to cross. The only positive mention I’ve seen of Greathouse was his assistance to respected frontiersman Simon Kenton during an Indian attack on Kenton’s fur camp. Even in this case, it can be clear that he was mostly just trying to save his own scalp.
If you were to read the history of US/Indian relations in this region over a hundred-year span or so, you would notice a waxing and waning pattern of violence. There would be peace for a few years, then an isolated attack by either a white or Indian fringe group or individual; which sparked a retaliation that roused small parties intent on causing trouble; which erupted in a war; which in turn begot another peace treaty. Then the wheel would slowly start spinning again, with whites settling farther into Indian territory.
At this point in the saga of westward expansion, decades of such pushing and pulling had already taken place, and most Indian tribes in the region had been displaced to the Ohio side of the Ohio River. Among these were the Delawares, Wyandots, Miamis, Ottawas, and the Shawnees. Of all mentioned, the lattermost were of a category all their own. Put simply, the Shawnee were a tribe you didn’t want to fuck with.
They were known for their uncompromising loyalty, wise and inspirational leadership (Tecumseh comes to mind), but mostly—as mentioned—everyone knew about their particular ability to fuck someone up real, real bad. I’ve said for a long time that if I were alive during this time period, I’d be on their side if they’d have me. (Odds are I would end up the Shawnee equivalent of a water boy, but goddammit, I would fetch that water so good for these guys.)
At this time, tensions were starting to tighten: despite a clear definition of borders in the standing treaty and almost a decade of peace, European settlers were encroaching farther and farther into Indian lands.
One would think that Chief Logan, whose village sat along the northern bank of the Ohio River, would be at the forefront of simmering hostility. One would be wrong in that assumption.
Logan was technically a “war chief” (which was kind of ironic, given his peaceful demeanor) but was and is much more commonly referred to as a principle chief. Originally part of the Cayuga tribe, Logan emigrated with a group of followers later referred to as the “Mingos” to escape the endless violence between Europeans and Indians.
As the years passed, Logan held a famously positive reputation among Indians and Europeans alike. If you were to enter Logan’s village, you could rest assured that you would be fed and given quarter regardless the color of your skin.
All of this is important because it really amplifies the abhorrence of the Greathouse family’s actions against Logan—not only to us, but even to those who lived in a society already accustomed to violence and general shitty behavior.
In the spring of 1774, two men hired Captain Michael Myers to guide them to a patch of land along Yellow Creek, across the Ohio River. Given that the land was well within Indian territory, they crossed the river after dark. A short while later, as they sat around a small fire and settled in for the evening, they heard a commotion near the horses. Myers grabbed his flintlock and began creeping through the forest to investigate. In the dim aura of the moon through the tree canopy, he saw an Indian near one of horses.
The Indian approached the horse and ran his hand along its flank—“What are you doin all the way out here? Poor little fellas. Better put up some posters and see if we can find your mom or dad.”
“Theivin sumbitch,” Myers muttered. He lifted his rifle and shot the man dead. As he reloaded the rifle, the sounds of the forest were deadened by the gunshot. He stored the rod, poured a dash of powder into the pan, closed the lock and pulled the hammer, and then waited among the bushes.
The sound of crickets resumed. Then he heard a rustle. Another Indian came into view, probably coming to investigate the rifle report. Myers fired a ball of lead into him, reloaded and waited until he was sure no one else was coming, and then returned to the campfire.
The three bandits then hurried back across the Ohio to Pennsylvania before the scene was discovered.
Their first stop back in White Guy Country was to Daniel and Jacob Greathouse’s camp. The brothers and their men gathered around and Captain Myers told them all what had happened.
“Y’hear that boys?” Jacob said. “Them injens is’a fix’n to murder ever last one’a us fore tomorrow’s through.”
“That’s right!” The Captain shouted. “These horse-theivin savages will be hungry for blood!”
“Let’s hit em fore they get the chance!” one man yelled.
“That’s right,” said another, “ambush em!”
“I don’t know,” a man named Jenkins said. “Sounds like this captain here’s the one being a peckerhead. He’as balls deep in injen country whuddn he? Cain’t we turn ‘im in instead, and—you know—not start a whole war over this?”
“Here he goes again,” a grisly frontiersman said before spitting a stream of molasses-colored tobacco juice onto the ground. “Jenkins you had yer way we’d let them red sumbitches steal ever horse we own an’ take our wives to boot.”
Jenkins shook his head. “Well I could mebbe understand if the Injen was stealing a horse in our backyard. But this captain fella took these two dingleberries halfway into Injen lands plannin to start a settlement there. How’d you feel if you saw three Shawnee boys camping out in your back lawn?”
Jacob cradled his rifle in his arms. “You been kicked by a mule or somethin boy?”
“Naw, I’m just saying—”
“Sounds to me like Jenkins here’s turnin native on us.”
“Scalp him!” one man yelled. “Injen lover!”
The crowd rabbled and shouted. Men pulled tomahawks from their waist belts and clicked the hammers on their flintlock rifles.
“You know what,” Jenkins said, backing away from the light of the fire and the angry crowd, “seems like you guys have everything under control here. I’m just gonna uhhh, head on back to my cabin and play some solitaire.”
He slipped into the forest, and the group turned back to Jacob.
“All right,” he said. “Here’s the plan …”