Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Tangled Tale of Chief White Eyes

The killing of Chief White Eyes is a Jefferson County legend: the Canaan Fall Festival has a Chief White Eyes painting contest and the White Eyes Trail and White Eyes Branch are part of the county's eastern geography.

But did anybody in Southern Indiana kill a chief named White Eyes, Jefferson County's most famous Indian? Or has the retelling put the wrong name on the body of the county's earliest-known murder victim?

Writers have been confused by the fact that Europeans applied the name White Eyes to different Indians. Colonists killed one White Eyes in 1778 in Pennsylvania, while another fought for the Colonies during the Revolution. A Delaware chief, whose Indian name was Alimee, signed the Treaty of Vincennes on Aug. 18, 1804 as George White Eyes.. On Aug. 21, 1805, Alimee, called simply White Eyes, signed the Treaty of Grouseland, via which the United States purchased the area that became Jefferson County.

Meanwhile, a series of reminiscences by pioneers, published in the Madison Courier in 1873 and 1874 gave conflicting information about the chief's tribal affiliation, and noted there was more than one White Eyes in the area. None reported their Indian names, which might have cleared things up.

Among the reminiscers, James Burns called the chief, a Pottawatomi, as did James Jackson who called him Charlie White Eyes, and said he was a "yellow Indian," which implies mixed black and Indian ancestry. Thomas Wise said he was a Shawnee, but that he "was a different Indian from old Chief White Eyes, the Pottawattamie who lived on Indian-Kentuck Creek." Physical descriptions also conflicted. Burns said White Eyes was about six-feet tall and about 30 years old (when Burns saw him in about 1813.) Jackson said that White Eyes wasn't as tall "as a common man." Some men trusted him; some didn't.

Jackson and Isaac Wilson said a Dr. Hicks poisoned the chief's whiskey, putting in so much poison he vomited instead of dying. Jackson reported White Eyes led the remaining Indians into Decatur County, and then to the Tippecanoe River region in 1816, where Jackson lost track of him. Since some of these men say that White Eyes often visited them, it would be seem natural for them to recount his murder. None did.

The murder stories say his campsite on White Eye Branch in Shelby Township was burned when he was killed. Or, he was tossed in a sinkhole on a farm owned by a Dryden, while still another version, published in 1939, claimed he killed was by Jim McCartney and dumped in a sinkhole in Graham Township.

Meanwhile, a History of Shelby Township, written sometime between 1910 and 1920, said an Indian named Wilson had his wigwam about two miles northeast of Canaan, "where as tradition says, he was foully murdered by three white men, whose names are lost to history."

It's the latter story that may have contributed to the tangled facts.

In 1874, the Madison Courier published a letter from former Madisonian William McKee Dunn. Dunn, who had served as adjutant general, had found a letter dated Sept. 9, 1812 in the War department files. In it, adjutant general Percival Butler described the possible murder of two Delaware Indians called Wilson and John Guin, who had hunted on the headwaters of the Indian-Kentuck.

Butler wrote that a William Hall and a Laughridge (a variant of the name Lockridge) had reported visiting the Indians' camp, heard guns fire, and found the Indians dead. The settlers came back with a tomahawk, a knife, and an obviously suspicious-sounding story. Butler wanted to know if the Indians had been murdered and if their killings had triggered the slaughter at Pigeon Roost.

Since Hall, Lockridge, and usually a Buchanan have been associated with the killing of White Eyes, it may be that the killing of Wilson got tangled in the White Eyes saga. And perhaps the Old White Eyes, one of the two reported by Jackson, was killed.

The Delaware White Eyes who wasn't killed was probably the one Jefferson County about whom the most has been written. Or was it someone else? We'll probably never know.

1 comment:

Jamie Sue said...

I am trying to find info for Canaan Community Academy that relates to "Chief White Eye. Just wanted to say thanks for the article!
Jamie