#8 Murder and Suicide
     (Mrs. Mary Jemison, 1817)

Trouble seldom comes single.  My son John, was a doctor, considerably celebrated amongst the Indians of various tribes, for his skill in curing their diseases, by the administration of roots and herbs, which he gathered in the forests, and other place where they had been planted by the hand of nature.

While at Squawky Hill he got into the company of two Squawky Hill Indians, whose names were Doctor and Jack, with whom he drank freely, and in the afternoon had a desperate quarrel, in which his opponents,(as it was afterwards understood,) agreed to kill him.  The quarrel ended, and each appeared to be friendly.  John bought some spirits, of which they all drank, and then set out for home.  John and an Allegany Indian were on horseback, and Doctor and Jack were on foot.  It was darkwhen they set out.  They had not proceeded far, when Doctor and Jack commenced another quarrel with John, clenched and dragged him off his horse, and then with a stone gave him so severe a blow on his head, that some of his brains were discharged from the wound.  The Allegany Indian, fearing that his turn would come next, fled for safety as fast as possible.

John recovered a little from the shock he had received, and endeavored to get to an old hut that stood near; but they caught him, and with an ax cut his throat, and beat out his brains, so that when he was found the contents of his skull were lying on his arms.

Next morning, Esq. Clute sent me word that John was dead, and also informed me of the means by which his life was taken, I had now buried my three sons, who had been snatched from me by the hands of violence, when I least expected it.

Although John had taken the life of his two brothers, and caused me unspeakable trouble and grief, his death made a solemn impression upon my mind, and seemed, in addition to my former misfortunes, enough to bring down my grey hairs with sorrow to the grave.  Yet, on a second thought, I could not morn for him as I had for my other sons, because I knew that his death was just, and what he had deserved for along time, from the hand of justice.

John’s vices were so great and so aggravated, that I have nothing to say in his favor: yet, as a mother, I pitied him while he lived, and have ever felt a great degree of sorrow for him, because of his bad conduct…

John left two wives with whom he had lived at the same time, and raised nine children.  …Doctor and Jack having finished their murderous design, fled before they could be apprehended, and lay six weeks in the woods back of Canisteo.  They then returned and sent me some wampum by Chongo, (my son-in-law,) and Sun-ge-waw (that is Big Kettle) expecting that I would pardon them, and suffer them to live as they had done with their tribe.  I however, would not accept their wampum, but returned it with a request, that, rather than have them killed. They would run away and keep out of danger.

On their receiving back the wampum, they took my advice, and prepared to leave their country and people immediately.  Their relatives accompanied them a short distance on their journey, and when about to part, their old uncle, the Tall Chief, addressed them in the following pathetic and sentimental speech: “Friends, hear my voice!—when the Great Spirit made Indians, he made them all good, and gave them good corn-fields; good rivers, well stored with fish; good forest, filled with game and good bows and arrows.  But very soon each wanted more than his share, and Indians quarrelled with Indians, and some were killed, and others were wounded.  Then the Great Spirit made very good word, and put it in every Indians breast, to tell us when we have done good, or when we have done bad; and that word has never told a lie.

“Friends!  Whenever you have stole, or got drunk, or lied, that good word has told you that you were bad Indians, and made you afraid of good Indians; and made you ashamed and look down.

Friends!  Your crime is greater than all those: — you have killed an Indian in a time of peace; and made the wind hear his groans, and the earth drink his blood.  You are bad Indians!  Yes, you are very bad Indians; and what can you do?  If you go into the woods to live alone, the ghost of John Jemison will follow you, crying, blood!  blood! and will give you no peace!  If you go to the land of your nation, there that ghost will attend you, and say to your relatives, see my murderers!  If you plant, it will blast your corn; if you hunt, it will scare your game; and when you are asleep, its groans, and the sight of an avenging tomahawk, will awake you!  What can you do?  Deserving of death, you cannot live here; and to fly from your country, to leave all your relatives, and to abandon all that you have known to be pleasant and dear, must be keener than an arrow, more bitter than gall, more terrible than death!  And how must we feel?—Your path will be muddy; the woods will be dark; the lightnings will glance down the trees by your side, and you will start at every sound!  Peace has left you, and you must be wretched.

Friends, hear me, and take my advice.  Return with us to your homes.  Offer to the Great Spirit your best wampum, and try to be good Indians!  And, if those whom you have bereaved shall claim your lives as their only satisfaction, surrender them cheerfully, and die like good Indians.  And—“Here Jack, highly incensed, interrupted the old man, and bade him stop speaking or he would take his life.  Affrighted at the appearance of so much desperation, the company hastened towards home, and left Doctor and Jack to consult their own feelings.

As soon as they were alone, Jack said to Doctor, “I had rather die here, than leave my country and friends!  Put the muzzle of your rifle into my mouth, and I will put the muzzle of mine into yours, and at the given signal we will discharge them, and rid ourselves at once of all the troubles under which we now labor, and satisfy the claims which justice holds against us.”

Doctor heard the proposition, and after a moment’s pause, made the following reply: ― “I am as sensible as you can be of the unhappy situation in which we have placed ourselves.  We are bad Indians.  We have forfeited our lives, and must expect in some way to atone for our crime: but, because we are bad and miserable, shall we make ourselves worse?  If we were now innocent, and in a calm reflecting moment should kill ourselves, that act would make us bad, and deprive us of our share of the good hunting in the land where our fathers have gone!  What would Little Beard [a Chief who died in 1806] say to us on our arrival to his cabin?  He would say ‘Bad Indians!  Cowards!  You were afraid to wait till we wanted your help!  Go (Jogo) to where snakes will lie in your path; where the panthers will starve you, by devouring the venison; and where you will be naked and suffer with the cold!  Jogo, (go,) none but the brave and good Indians live here!’  I cannot think of an act that will add to my wretchedness.  It is hard enough for me to suffer here, and have good hunting hereafter―worse to lose the whole.”

Upon this, Jack withdrew his proposal.  They went on about two miles, and then turned about and came home.  Guilty and uneasy, they lurked about Squawky Hill near a fortnight, and then went to Cattaraugus, and were gone six weeks.  When they came back, Jack’s wife earnestly requested him to remove his family to Tonnewonta; but he remonstrated against her project, and utterly declined going.  His wife and family, however, tired of the tumult by which they were surrounded, packed up their effects in spite of what he could say, and went off.

Jack deliberated a short time upon the proper course for himself to pursue, and finally, rather than leave his old home, he ate a large quantity of muskrat root, and died in 10 or 12 hours.  His family being immediately notified of his death, returned to attend the burial, and is yet living at Squawky Hill.

Nothing was ever done with Doctor, who continued to live quietly at Squawky Hill till sometime in the year 1819, when he died of Consumption.

[#8] James E. Seaver. A narrative of the life of Mrs. Mary Jemison. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1992. Also available online from the Internet Archive.

Leave a Comment

Filed under Americas, Indigenous Cultures, North American Native Cultures

Leave a Reply