Indians for Jesus!
“You recall the time when the Jesus Indians [. . .] lived near the Americans, and had confidence in their promises [. . .] yet the Americans murdered all the men, women, and children, even as they prayed to Jesus?”
- Tecumseh, Shawnee Chief (to Gen. William Henry Harrison), 1810
The combative relationship between Native Americans and Europeans developed early thanks to culture clashes, European assumptions of Providential superiority, and the belief that the indigenous people of the New World were “godless savages”.
As savages, in the European mind, they were little better than the lesser creatures of Nature. They were not due any respect. The lands they occupied could be exploited better by the settlers. Europeans held all Indians in disdain; wherever and whenever possible they were to be exploited, abused, debased, and even murdered. The Natives were not citizens, they had no rights in their own country, and the Europeans kept pushing them. Credit: public domain
Violence was the outcome, and the skirmishing was not restricted to one group of Indians. Many times the Natives pushed back, resulting in slaughters of not only instigating whites who may have wronged them but also entire villages of people. Bystanders were collateral damage in an ongoing war the Natives ultimately could not win.In 1782, death was visited upon a quiet little Ohio village of Moravian Christians. The townspeople were rounded up, ruthlessly bludgeoned to death, and scalped (some while still alive). The 96 dead included men, women, and children. The village was afterward plundered and burned to the ground by the raiders.
Two boys survived the butchery. News of the Gnadenhütten Massacre, the cruelty of the slaughter and of the destruction of the mission town, spread quickly.
Though many (including Gen. George Washington of the Continental Army) were outraged at stories they’d heard of the event, no retaliatory or legal action was ever taken to bring the killers to justice.
No posse was assembled to run the murderers to ground in any display of frontier vigilante vengeance.
Such apathy was expected.
The massacred, though Christians, were Lenape Indians.
Their killers were members of a white Colonial American militia.
What’s a Word Worth?
History is written by the victors, the conquerors, and the empowered. Chroniclers, though perhaps giving an appearance of objectivity, never fully live up to the intent. They choose words to make “their side” (whichever side that happens to be) look heroic, or virtuous, or benevolent, or diplomatic. The words historical narrators select color future generations’ responses to, and interpretations of, historic events. Certain words carry connotations that make the subjects they describe more vivid. They can instill an emotional reaction in the human mind. They can also skew how a reader feels about or perceives the subject recorded. Credit: public domain
Classic examples of wordsmithing that tends to taint objectivity can be found in almost any text about Billy the Kid. The word “outlaw” is applied to him more often than not; the same word is ascribed to the mythical and romantic Robin Hood (the “robber from the rich, giver to the poor”).
“Outlaw” carries a romance, a sense of a lone individualist unfairly condemned by society or forever roaming because he is unjustly persecuted. William Tell, the Swiss archer of myth, carries such a moniker because, in folklore, he bucked the unjust law of his times.
Billy the Kid, though a loner, was not the tragic, romantic, misunderstood maladaptive rebel the word “outlaw” conjures. He was a street punk of the Old West, a horse thief, and a cold-blooded killer, murdering to save his skin (as in the killings of his captors in 1881) or over picayune things (such as shooting to death a blacksmith after the man’s verbal bullying turned needlessly violent in 1877).
The same level of “outlaw” romance is generally lavished on Jesse James, though he sometimes benefits from the appellation “desperado” (as if he were an innocent on the lam from damaged justice). James, like The Kid, was no outlaw. He was a cowardly killer, and a train and bank robber, whose idea of bravado was always working within the safety of a gang (unlike The Kid, who was clearly able to fend for himself if necessary). Claiming support of the Confederacy during the Civil War, James never bothered to join the rebels in combat (though 13 years old when it started, James could have joined by age 15—the Confederates would have gladly and gratefully enlisted him). Instead, he raided in Missouri and other territories in the name of the South.
At one time, there was a hot-button word—“Communist”—that was randomly applied thanks to arch-conservative “patriots”. Lives were ruined by overzealous lawmakers and whistle blowers. Even musician and TV actor, Desi Arnaz, was under investigation for alleged Communist activities (he was never a Communist).
The modern Department of Homeland Security bandies about a word, too, guaranteed to make people cringe. In the militantly conservative, knee-jerk reactionary world that is the United States today (with its so-called “Patriot” Act and its civil-rights-abusive Frankenstein’s monster, Homeland Security) the word “terrorist” is a volatile one.
Thanks to propaganda and media hype and hysteria, the word (for the unwashed, uneducated, ill-informed masses who hear it) immediately conjures images of a Middle Eastern Muslim jihadist bent on destroying Western culture (never mind that since 9/11 almost all significant terrorist threats or acts of impact in the United States were the result of domestic terrorists, not foreigners). And in its wanton pursuit of “terrorists”, Homeland Security is no better (and no more truthful) than the Red-baiting FBI was under J. Edgar Hoover during the Cold War.
More importantly, though, is how history (with its sometimes selective phrasing) is disseminated. Television uses sound bites filled with histrionics and action verbs designed to capture a viewing audience, not intended for unbiased dissemination of facts. Print media, notoriously including Internet offerings, is equally guilty and usually subscribes to the same sensationalized bullets meant more to generate quick readership than in serving the public good with objective reporting.
Elsewhere, planted on the American landscape, historical markers and plaques give bite-sized nuggets about past events or people. Almost invariably a word surfaces on many of these roadside history lessons. This word, like the word “terrorist”, is a loaded one.
The word is “massacre”.
“Massacre” for white Americans (thanks to centuries of indoctrination, repetition, bigotry, and pop culture) is always interpreted one way: Native Americans, without provocation, slaughtered a group of innocent, minding-their-own-business white settlers. A typical text might read, “On this site in March 1782, 96 people were massacred.” Without saying anything more than that the average white American concludes two things: the attackers were Indians, and those massacred were white pioneers.
The bias is there. The word “massacre”, as used in history books and on the landscape, overflows with prejudice.
Proof that not all massacres were executed by Indians against hapless white people lies in the southern Utah desert scrublands.
On September 11, 1857, white Mormons (first using Paiute confederates, with promises of cattle, as distractions) disguising themselves as Indians opened fire on a passing wagon train.
Credit: public domainFacing threats from “injuns” the settlers were understandably frightened. After a four day siege, the “injuns” retreated; in their place came a cadre of white men to help the wagon train cross Utah.
In reality this was a Mormon militia group sent there for the sole purpose of slaughtering the pioneers in retaliation for past years of persecution and recent fears about US Government threats. [The paranoid Mormon leader, Brigham Young, was certain the US Army, under orders of President James Buchanan, was planning to invade Utah; this wagon train was in reality an advance force. He learned this was not the case in plenty of time to stop the militia from executing his order to kill, but he delayed processing that order.]
The militia group disarmed the settlers, promising them safe passage. A mile further along their route, the militia’s leader gave a signal, and the militia opened fire upon the unarmed settlers, massacring the majority. The Mormon death squad then stole the pioneers’ cattle, cash, and other household goods including a large cache of jewelry. [The value of the wagon train exceeded $1.8 million by today’s standards.]
Of the 137 (or 138) pioneers comprising the wagon train, only a handful of children were spared. These were taken to be raised in Mormon households (though some were later returned to their relatives).
The event was downplayed and never discussed in the Mormon community. A conspiracy to cover up the slaughter was put in place. Some word got out, but the Paiutes were blamed. Later, Mormon defectors and others with knowledge told the whole sordid story of the Mountain Meadows Massacre.
A park was established at the massacre site. Today, there is a monument to the cold-blooded killing of a defenseless party of pioneers. Even so, only a partial truth commemorates this horrible bloodbath. An inscription describes the event:
In the valley below, between September 7 and September 11, 1857,
a company of more than 120 Arkansas emigrants led
by Capt. John T. Baker and Capt. Alexander Farcher was attacked
while en route to California. This event is known in history
as the Mountain Meadows Massacre.
All that the average person will take away is implied. Pioneers (read: “good guys”) were attacked en route to California. Therefore, to the average white American, this can only mean that Indians massacred the “Arkansas emigrants” (never mind that not all members of the doomed wagon train were from Arkansas—some were from Illinois and Missouri).Credit: public domain
The careful insertion of the word “Massacre” in the naming of the event, and the equally careful omission of who the aggressors were, will lead no one reading this inscription to the truth: white people (with some incidental Paiute help) massacred other white people.
The Jesus Indians
The Lenni Lenâpé (or Lenape, later known popularly as the Delaware Indians), were a woodland culture on North America’s mid-Atlantic seaboard. Their territory, called Lenapehoking (“Lenape country”), roughly covered the lands drained by the Delaware River (in Delaware and Pennsylvania), New Jersey, and the lower Hudson River Valley in New York State. They belonged to the Algonquian language group. Within the Lenape there were several distinct linguistic subdivisions, with attendant minor cultural differences; the two main groups spoke the Unami dialect in the south and the Munsee dialect in the north. A third dialect, a subset of the Unami language, was spoken by the Indians of Delaware (the Unalichtigo dialect).
These three tribal divisions comprised the main Lenape body politic. They were the first to greet the earliest of explorers in eastern North America, including Verrazano (in 1524), Peter Minuit and his Dutch colonists (in 1624), and the Dutch and later the Swedes in Delaware (in 1631 and 1638 respectively).
Perhaps wanting to share the lands that Europeans seemed bound and determined to usurp from them the Lenape attempted peaceable coexistence with whites. Unfortunately, this would prove to be impossible. The Dutch established a village and fur trading post on June 3, 1631, near what is now Lewes, Delaware. The parent of this little outpost was the Dutch West India Company, and the company’s insignia was emblazoned at the settlement.
The local Lenape apparently had cordial relations with this group of newcomers for a short time, but that soured soon enough. Some Lenape, for whatever reasons, defaced the Dutch West India Company heraldry. The nature of this vandalism is unknown, but the Dutch traders retaliated against the Lenape they believed responsible. The Lenape, in turn, descended upon the trading post and killed all 32 of the Dutch settlers on hand. [The details of the Dutch retaliation after the Lenape damage to their company insignia aren’t known. The likelihood is the insulted traders followed later patterns of European hostilities: they probably burned Lenape subsistence crops and raided the offenders’ village, perhaps burning their longhouses and killing many in the process. Otherwise, the Lenape response—slaughtering an entire settlement’s occupants—would be all out of proportion to the initial Dutch reaction and would qualify as a true, unprovoked “massacre”.]
Within a century the Lenape (both in the northern and southern parts of their territories) had been forced to migrate deeper into Pennsylvania by the Dutch and later the British or by other warring Native American groups. Settling in eastern Pennsylvania primarily was a short-term solution. While William Penn (1644-1718), the Quaker administrator of the Pennsylvania Colony, tolerated the Lenape (and had signed a peace treaty with them in 1682 immediately upon assuming stewardship over the new colony) his sons and successors were not. The Lenape were forced further and further west into Pennsylvania before spilling over into Ohio.
In 1722 a sect called the Moravians (with its roots in an older, defunct 15th Century reform movement, the Hussites) revived much of the Hussites’ religious beliefs, re-establishing the movement in Germany’s Bohemia and Moravia. From there the cult spread, finding its way to North America. The Moravians settled an area of Pennsylvania they named Bethlehem, creating that town in their image in 1740. From there the missionary-minded Moravians set up other Pennsylvania communities, one of which carried the unwieldy name “Gnadenhütten”.
Europeans smugly believed Christianity was necessary for the Native Americans, and the Moravians pestered the Lenape with their sermonizing and missionary efforts to the point of distraction. Perhaps to get along easier with their white neighbors, many members of the Lenape (mostly of the Munsee branch but may have included others) submitted to the “salvation” offered by the Moravians and converted to Christianity. The Moravians, in exchange for delivering the Lenape from Hell’s Eternal Damnation, forced them to give up their ancient customs and lifestyle, and also required them to forsake their communal longhouses in favor of European-style village housing.
The Lenape subset who resignedly accepted the Christian tenets became casually known as Moravian Indians or Jesus Indians.
The French and Indian War (a conflict in which many Native Americans of different tribes sided with the French to wrest control of North America east of the Mississippi River from the British) raged off and on from 1754 to 1763. Battles along the Canadian-British Colonial frontier were part of the war’s fighting but the focus of the conflict centered on dominance of the Ohio River Valley. This area, stretching from western Pennsylvania southwest to the Mississippi River was a highly desirable military and commercially valuable region.
The British started building a fort at the confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela Rivers near the point these two became the mighty Ohio River in 1754—the French captured it, finished construction, and named it Fort Duquesne in 1755. While the British held much of the remainder of the territory around Fort Duquesne (and it was British citizens who populated the bulk of Pennsylvania) it was the French culture (thanks to early French explorers, traders, and other business interests along the Ohio) that dominated.
For the Jesus Indians, the conflict between France and Britain was not for them. The Moravians, like the Quakers for whom Pennsylvania became a homeland, were pacifists. They did not believe in fighting for political gains nor did they believe in taking oaths of allegiance (a formality enforced when enlisting for any armed service). The Moravian missionaries encouraged their converts to stay out of the warring. For the non-Christian Lenape, most of whom supported the French, the neutral Lenape under Moravian influence were traitorous.
Trouble found the Jesus Indians of the tiny mission village of Gnadenhütten, Pennsylvania. In 1755, Native Americans fighting in support of the French approached the Moravian settlement. In an assault on the town these militant Indians slaughtered many missionaries and their Lenape wards.
In 1758, the French lost Fort Duquesne to the British who renamed it Fort Pitt. With this strategic victory the tide of tolerance in Pennsylvania changed dramatically. That same year the very one-sided Treaty of Easton was drawn up and signed. This agreement, between the Anglo-American colonists and the Lenape, required the Lenape still dwelling in Pennsylvania, New York State, New Jersey, and Delaware to completely vacate and move west into Ohio.
The beleaguered Lenape, including the Jesus Indians, trudged westward into Ohio. They developed a central village, Coshocton, in the Ohio Indian lands. The Moravians took advantage of the situation and used it as an excuse to expand into Ohio, too. In the 1770s, the missionaries built a handful of small villages in the area around Coshocton and set to work Christianizing as many more Lenape as would submit.Credit: American Peoples Encyclopedia, 1963
Following the Tuscarawas River’s thread about 25 miles upstream (and northeast of Coshocton) a village was built by the Moravians. Tempting fate, they named it “Gnadenhütten” in honor of the Pennsylvania village of the same name that had been wiped out in 1758 in a massacre.
Between a Rock and a Hard Place
The American Revolution created a schism within the Lenape. The villages they’d established were in the physical and ideological lines of fire. The American Colonials had assumed control over Fort Pitt to the east. Northwest of their central Ohio territory the British (and their Indian allies) controlled the fort at Detroit.
Between these two military strongholds the Lenape were divided. Some Lenape, sickened by the Colonials treatment and robbing of their eastern ancestral lands sided with the British. These “Loyalist” Lenape uprooted from Coshocton and moved into northwestern Ohio, closer to the British and Detroit.
There was another faction within the Lenape, however, that optimistically held out hope that an Indian state could be established in Ohio. The Treaty of Fort Pitt was negotiated between Lenape leaders and Colonials at Fort Pitt in 1778. Treaty discussions provided a condition: if the Lenape helped the rebel cause against Britain, they could create an exclusive Indian home state as part of the upstart United States. This enticement was sufficient for many Lenape to join the Colonials’ fight against the British.
Still, the Jesus Indians among the Lenape maintained their neutrality. This stance was not only encouraged by the Moravians but other non-Christian Lenape leaders believed that by staying neutral, and out of the warring, the Lenape would emerge unharmed. “Let the white men fight among themselves,” seemed to hold sway with many.
With the death of the Lenape chief who had been the primary Indian negotiator for the Treaty of Fort Pitt (shortly after it was signed) it became evident that the Indians would not be granted what they were promised as the war dragged on. Many withdrew their allegiance to the Colonials and instead turned to the British cause.
Agitated rebels responded brutally to this about-face by their supposed allies. In April 1781, an armed force, under Col. Daniel Brodhead, was sent out from Fort Pitt to the Lenape capital of Coshocton in Ohio. The village was razed; surviving Lenape escaped to the north and the relative safety of the British and their Indian allies.
Out in the frontier lands, many Native Americans (not just non-Christian Lenape but others as well), had raided settlements in western Pennsylvania in the years since being exiled to Ohio. Many members of the Continental Army or in the rabble-based militias had relatives and friends who had been killed in such forays. The lesser-minded among these men tended to blame not a specific band of Natives for these insults but felt all Indians were responsible for the violent acts of some.
Immediately following the April 19 destruction of Coshocton, still thirsting for revenge upon any Indians they could find, the military unit turned its attentions to the satellite villages occupied by the Moravians and their Jesus Indians. The commander, Col. Brodhead, managed to convince his men to leave the Jesus Indians alone—they were unarmed, pacifistic, neutral non-combatants
Unfortunately, it would not be white men that caused the next round of travails for the Jesus Indians.
Et tu, Lenape?
The Lenape living in the Moravian mission villages would not remain unmolested for long. And when violence came to them this time it was not from the Colonials but from among the British-allied Indians in the north and—perhaps surprisingly—also included their Lenape brethren who had fled from the Coshocton blitz.
The Munsee-speaking Jesus Lenape remained suspect even among their own people, the Unami-speaking Lenape. The Moravian Indians needed to be brought into the fold, preferably on the side of the British in the fighting against the Colonials.
Several months after Coshocton’s destruction (at the instigation of the British operating out of Detroit) a war party of Native American allies was created and supplied for a major raid into central Ohio. This group, consisting mostly of Wyandot Indians but including many turncoat Lenape in its complement, plunged into the villages occupied by the Moravian Lenape in September 1781.
Word spread quickly of the advancing raid—the Moravian Lenape, with little time to prepare or establish any effective defense quickly cached food and other items. The Jesus Indians and their missionary mentors of Gnadenhütten (as well as those of its sister Moravian villages) were captured and marched northwest toward the Sandusky River and Lake Erie. Included in the prisoners were two key Moravian missionary leaders suspected of using the Indians to gather intelligence on British military movements and relaying this information to the Colonials at Fort Pitt.
The captives were taken to a purpose-built prisoner-of-war camp called Captive Town. Sorting the Jesus Indians into manageable groups they were integrated into Captive Town’s daily labors. The two Moravian preachers accused of espionage faced the overseeing British on official charges of treason. They were acquitted (though, in reality, these two were actually guilty as later historical researchers learned).
The Road Home
The Lenape prisoners of Captive Town suffered as the winter of 1781 progressed into 1782. Rations at the camp were sparse and as the months waxed and waned the Indians were starving.
Somehow, several dozen or so Lenape gathered with the aim of finding food. They planned to return to their hastily evacuated Moravian villages to recover not only the foods they’d cached but also to harvest what crops they could from the fields they’d been forced to abandon a few months before.
It is uncertain how so large a group (98 Indians) was able to leave the camp unchallenged. Their absence would certainly have been noted by someone. They were either granted permission to leave Captive Town (with the understanding they would return with food supplies) or they sneaked away. It is more probable they were organized specifically as a relief team—a group of warriors were dispatched to accompany them, either as guards to prevent their escape or as protection.
The Lenape group of men, women, and children left in February 1782 and hied their way southeast toward their old villages. In the earliest days of March 1782 the Indians arrived in Gnadenhütten and set about their tasks. In addition to finding food stores, though, these Indians would also find death.
The ground war of the American Revolution had officially ended in late 1781. On the western frontiers, though, violence still flared among the Natives and wandering militia bands. In Pennsylvania, agitated rebel Colonials had not forgotten the Lenape raids on their western settlements of earlier years, nor had they forgiven the Lenape for not siding with them in their fight against the British.
The return of some Lenape to the area of the abandoned Moravian mission villages had not gone unnoticed by whites with occasion to pass through. Their encampment was revealed to Lt. Col. David Williamson; he mustered a group of white militia and ventured out to Gnadenhütten. As the Lenape had warriors among them Williamson and his group of 160 militiamen first approached the settlement on March 7, 1782, under a cautionary pretext. Gaining the Indians’ trust the militia then surrounded the Lenape and stripped them of any arms they had.
Williamson accused them of raiding western Pennsylvania settlements. The Lenape—known to belong to the neutral Moravian Jesus Indians—denied the accusations. They suggested that it was either members of another Lenape group or other Indian clans or tribes entirely who had done such things.
The prevailing sentiment among the white men, including Williamson, was that all Indians were bad. Even if these particular Indians had never raided any white settlements they could just as well pay for the transgressions of others. Williamson had decided their guilt long before entering Gnadenhütten; the only question at hand really was what should become of them.
He was in favor of massacring the lot, and he put the issue to a vote among his men. In consideration of the seriousness of cold-bloodedly murdering unarmed Indians several of Williamson’s men refused to vote. Some even left rather than take part in a baseless slaughter.
The vote, however, went against the Lenape. Williamson told the Jesus Indians they would be put to death. The Lenape asked to be allowed some mental preparation time—surprisingly, Williamson granted them this minor dignity. He ordered the Indians divided into two groups: men were segregated from the women and children. Each group was locked up in a separate structure for the night. The Lenape spent their remaining hours in prayer and in singing hymns.
The next morning, March 8, 1782, the sequestered Jesus Indians were brought out and bound. Again, the men were kept separate from the women and children, and the restrained Lenape were shoved inside two buildings.
On a signal militiamen charged the makeshift jails. Using mallets, tomahawks taken from the Lenape, and other blunt objects they smashed heads. Though many Lenape were killed outright in this initial assault many were merely stunned or knocked unconscious. Nearly all were scalped or received scalping wounds (many still alive when this brutality was applied). The death count was finalized at 96 Jesus Indians: 28 Lenape men, 29 Lenape women, and 39 Lenape children.
The militia ransacked what pitiful material goods the Lenape had brought with them on this trip.
They raged through the abandoned houses of Gnadenhütten, plundering what had been left in haste when the population had been forced out to Captive Town months earlier. Many things of value were stolen: pelts (for trading), worked-pewter household wares, and clothing (including that worn by the dead Indians).
The bodies were unceremoniously thrown into other mission buildings in the village. Fires were set; Gnadenhütten burned to the ground. Any human remains not consumed in the flames were gathered and buried in a developing refuse mound at the town’s southern end. After leaving Gnadenhütten the militia traveled on to the other neighboring (unoccupied) Moravian villages, ransacked them for material goods, and burned them, too. [The haul taken from these villages required 80 horses to cart away.]
Of the men opposed to killing the Jesus Indians was one who, though not voting, stayed behind and observed what transpired. Obadiah Holmes, Jr., wrote later specifically that two of the killers, Nathaniel Rollins and his brother, had lost their father and an uncle to a past Indian attack. Though they had no idea which Indians had killed their two male relatives, the brothers (Nathaniel taking the lead) were the first to dive into the “killing houses”, signaling a clear start of the massacre. Nathaniel Rollins, flailing a tomahawk, was personally responsible for 19 murders. After the carnage, Obadiah Holmes, Jr., recalled of Nathaniel Rollins:
“. . . & after it was over he sat down & cried, & said it was no satisfaction for the loss of his father & uncle after all”.
Williamson and his death squad left Gnadenhütten believing they had murdered all the Lenape found there. They were wrong. Two Indian boys (both severely injured and one of whom had been scalped) had somehow escaped from the pile of bodies before the village was burned. Thanks to the survival of these two youths news of the atrocity spread quickly through the frontier lands, reaching back to “civilization” in Fort Pitt, Pennsylvania, and all the way up to British-controlled Detroit.
Many European Colonials, especially those among the Germanic Moravians, were infuriated by the Gnadenhütten massacre. There was some discussion about bringing the murderous militiamen to justice, but it came to naught—the majority of those learning of the massacre felt the militia’s actions were justified (as almost everyone was tired of the constant hostilities between whites and Indians). Despite knowing the names of the massacre’s leaders, none of the men involved ever faced criminal charges.
Though European-style justice was not in the offing there was always frontier justice to right this wrong. The Lenape living in the Sandusky River Valley, allied with the British, swore they would avenge those massacred.
General George Washington, after he heard the news about the massacre, was fearful of retribution by the Lenape. Knowing what tortures might befall any captured soldier Washington ordered all under his command to avoid being taken alive (meaning if capture was imminent they were to commit suicide rather than be taken).
In June 1782 a force against the Lenape arrived at Sandusky, Ohio. This group, benignly called the “Crawford Expedition” (making it sound as if it were a scientific field study), was meant as a pre-emptive strike against possible Indian retaliation over the Gnadenhütten slaughter. Its leader, William Crawford, was a close friend of George Washington. Crawford had not been a participant in the Gnadenhütten Massacre. Among his men, though, were two high-profile Gnadenhütten killers: Lt. Col. David Williamson (who had led the militia in murder) and Capt. Charles Bilderback.
The Crawford Expedition was beaten by the Indians at Sandusky. In a great irony the guilty Williamson and Bilderback managed to flee to safety; Crawford, the leader of the attackers, was taken. His Wyandot and Lenape captors ritually tortured him before burning him at the stake. The Indians knew Crawford had not been a party to the Gnadenhütten massacre, but he was white, part of the whites’ military machinery, and he was handy—he was killed solely in the name of revenge.
Captain Charles Bilderback would receive his punishment, though it was years late. He had murdered some Lenape in March 1782. He escaped the Lenape in June 1782. In June 1789 he was not so fortunate: Bilderback was captured by hostile Lenape in Ohio. He was tortured and killed.
Justice never found David Williamson, the officer who issued a summary guilty verdict and a death sentence for the innocent Jesus Indians of Gnadenhütten. He died in 1814, impoverished (though that minor detail would provide small comfort for those with a living memory of his mass murder of unarmed people).
Unlike many events of its type in American history, most notably the Mormon Mountain Meadows Massacre, the Gnadenhütten Massacre has always been generally known for what it truly was: white people mindlessly slaughtering defenseless Indians. The only untruths associated with it were the contemporary justifications: “All Indians are bad”; “They had it coming”; “The only good Injun is a dead Injun”, etc.. The village site is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Parts have been preserved, such as the burial mound. Reconstructed buildings (a mission house and a cooperage as well as log dwellings, for example) are there to provide a backdrop to how the unusual Jesus Indians lived. The site also commemorates the Moravians who mentored the Lenape.
Unfortunately, typical of the times, the inscription written on the 37-foot tall memorial obelisk monument (dedicated June 5, 1872) was perhaps only a half-hearted nod to what happened:
“Here triumphed in death ninety Christian Indians, March 8, 1782”.
“Triumphed in death”? How, exactly, did these “Christian Indians” die? Did they die fighting for their faith, martyred to save their village from marauders? Worse, this less-than-helpful phrasing might lead a casual reader to infer the Lenape killed themselves in a religiously inspired suicide pact! This monument’s inscription is no better than the one in southern Utah (in its misleading narrative about the Mountain Meadows Massacre).
Certainly, massacres in American history are not unique. And the guilty parties are never consistently one group. For example, the original village of Gnadenhütten in Pennsylvania had been wiped out by Native Americans. White people murdered Indians at Gnadenhütten’s place of rebirth in Ohio. It was white Mormons who murdered white pioneers in the Mountain Meadows Massacre. And white people massacred the black residents of Rosewood, Florida, in January 1923.Credit: public domain
When a member of Homeland Security, justifying the bloated budget of that organization, alleges “X” number of terrorist plots or “Y” number of terrorist cells were exposed one should ask who, exactly, these “terrorists” are. Are these legitimately organized insurgents with resources to carry out destruction? Or, do the numbers include punk kids (with no agenda or even intent to “terrorize”) discovered reading “subversive” Internet web-sites (thanks to warrantless Homeland Security privacy invasions), giving the Department of Homeland Security more “terrorists” to fatten its stats?
And, as with the word “terrorist”, the word “massacre” should also always be questioned. When reading “massacre” (whether in a history book or on a roadside marker), take the time to think about exactly who were the massacred and who was doing the massacring. It is in the language of history that readers should be cautious. The words (or their omissions) can imply lies. Thinking about the author, his or her agenda, and the context of the times in which the text was written can all enrich understanding of what is being conveyed.
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broadspectrum review of historic clashes
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another forgotten case of Indians senselessly slaughtered
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