Philip Kabel of Randolph County penned occasional pieces on Randolph County history for the Union City paper. One such story, addressed the hideous March 22, 1824, murders of peaceful Native Americans by white settlers on Fall Creek hunting grounds in Madison County. Here’s what happened. That fatal day, a party of Native American trappers rested at their campsite. The party consisted of three men, four women and three young children. They had a successful day raccoon trapping at Deer Lick Creek.

Seven white men approached the party at their winter camp. They were Thomas Harper, James Hudson, Andrew Sawyer and his brother, John Townsend Bridge Sr., plus Sawyer’s nephew John Bridge Jr., 18.

The son of Sawyer, a boy named Stephen, and a settler named Andrew Jones were present, but authorities believed their claims that they did not participate.

The intruders wanted the furs of the Indians. They invented a ruse, imploring the native men to help them find horses they claimed had bolted. The Indians agreed and walked into a trap.

Harper stalked one male native. Hudson marched behind a second man. Both fired weapons. Two victims fell dead. Hearing the shots, Andrew Sawyer trained his gun on one native female and squeezed the trigger. Bridge father and his son murdered the remaining three terrified women. Sawyer shot and wounded one fleeing boy with a rifle ball. The shooters then killed two more children. The massacre concluded as Sawyer, in a frenzy, picked up the wounded boy and whacked his head against a fallen log. The marauders then took and divided the plunder.

All told, the bodies of nine butchered men, women and children bled out along Fall Creek. An account in the Anderson Gazette of Dec. 7, 1854, claimed that one badly wounded female was found alive at the creek and taken to Stephen Sawyer’s nearby cabin. There she died and some at the time thought Sawyer may have suffocated her.

Fortunately for justice, one adult native male escaped. He reported the crime. The distinguished author and historian R. David Edmunds found that many other killings of Native Americans before and after this time were never solved or even pursued by white authorities.

Authorities located Hudson, Sawyer and the two Bridges. A blacksmith named Adam Winchell and Sheriff Samuel Cory cuffed them in irons and jailed them.

Thomas Harper escaped all search parties and was to go unpunished.

Native Americans demanded justice. Indian agent John Johnston, then 49, of Piqua, Ohio, came to Indiana. Johnston feared an uprising. He tried to appease outraged natives with assurances that the killers would pay for their heinous deeds. He used federal monies to give supplies to surviving family members of the slain trappers. Locals in Pendleton under Johnston’s supervision constructed a two-room cabin to serve as courthouse.

“Only a lawyer would defend a murderer,” said Winchell in contempt.

During the trials, a prosecutor held aloft the bloody calico shirt of the native boy who had been brained against a log.

The judges ordered the hanging of the four white killers.

Members of the victims’ families attended the executions.

Ringleader Hudson died first by hanging in 1824. Sawyer and the elder Bridge died at the gallows in 1825. The younger Bridge sat on his own coffin as he watched his father’s execution.

As the sheriff marched young Bridge to the gallows, the condemned youth went to pieces, according to the accounts of Smith and Kabel.

At the last moment, Indiana Gov. James Brown Ray pardoned Bridge. Ray had just assumed office, filling the seat left vacant when Gov. William Hendricks assumed his elected position as a U.S. Senator in January 1825.

Kabel’s account ended with a quote from Oliver Smith: “Such was the result of the first case on record in America where a white man died for killing an Indian.”

Young Bridge moved to Delphi, where he married Rosanna Carr. They had one son. Bridge kept out of trouble and died, his neck unstretched, in 1876, according to ancestry documents I located.


Nuwer, a former Randolph County resident, is writing full-time as he completes a biography of Kurt Vonnegut in Fairbanks, Alaska. He has also taught journalism during his career, including for Ball State University and Franklin College in Indiana.