Simon Girty

(Author Unknown)

SIMON GIRTY was born in Northwestern Pennsylvania. His father was an Irishman. "The old man was beastly intemperate. A jug of whisky was the extent of his ambition.' 'Grog was his song, and grog would he have.' His sottishness turned his wife's affection. Ready for seduction, she yielded her heart to a neighboring rustic, who, to remove all obstacles to their wishes, knocked GIRTY on the head, and bore off the trophy of his prowess." There were four children at the time of the father's death: Thomas, Simon, George, and James. During the old French war the three last were taken prisoners by the Indians. Simon was adopted by the Senecas, and became an expert hunter. His Indian name was Katepacomen. It must be passed to his credit that his early training as a savage was compulsory, not voluntary, as has generally been supposed. His tribe roamed the wilderness northwest of the Ohio; and when the expedition under Colonel Henry BOUQUET, at the close of Pontiac's war in 1764, marched into the western wilderness to punish the Ohio Indians, one of the hostages delivered to that commander by the latter was GIRTY. He escaped, however, soon after, and returned to his savage life. But, as one of the conditions of peace was the yielding up by the Senecas of all their captives willing or unwilling, GIRTY was compelled to return to the settlements, making his home in the vicinity of Pittsburgh.

GIRTY took part in DUNMORE'S war in 1774, on the side of Virginia, during which time he was the bosom friend and companion of Simon KENTON. He was intimately acquainted with Colonel CRAWFORD, taking sides with the latter in opposition to Pennsylvania rule, in the boundary controversy. He was frequently a guest at CRAWFORD'S hospitable cabin, on the banks of the Youghiogheny. On the 22nd of February, 1775, he was commissioned an officer of the militia at Pittsburgh, taking the test and other necessary oaths upon that occasion. He aspired to a captaincy in the regular army; but in this he was disappointed; which, it seems, was the reason of his deserting to the enemy, early in the year 1778. It is probable, however, that his early education among the Senecas had much to do with his desire and resolution again to return to the wilderness. Much of his time previous to this had been employed in interpreting, as he was well skilled in Indian lore.

General HAND was commandant at Fort Pitt when GIRTY deserted to the enemy. The greatest consternation was produced at Pittsburgh when the event became known, as with him went a squad of twelve soldiers and the notorious ELLIOTT and MCKEE. From this defection the worst might reasonably be expected, as they would certainly have great power for mischief in persuading and assisting the Indians to murder and pillage. The now assured hostility of this ignoble trio of desperados to the government of the United States-GIRTY, ELLIOTT, And MCKEE-made at this time a dark outlook from the border across the Ohio. Their evil designs might be calculated on with certainty. And, as was feared, they went directly to the principal town of the now vascillating Delawares, situated upon what is the present site of Coshocton, Ohio, where they came very near changing the neutral policy of that tribe, as has already been observed, into one of open hostility against the Americans.

They represented that the white people were embodying themselves for the purpose of killing every Indian they should meet, be he friend or foe; that the American armies were all cut to pieces by the British; that General WASHINGTON was killed; that there was no more Congress; that the English had hung some of the members, and taken the rest to England; that the whole country beyond the mountains was in possession of their armies; and that a few thousand Americans on this side were all that were left in arms; and that these, as just stated were determined to kill all the Indians in the western country-men, women and children. Thus did Simon GIRTY signalize his return to the savages; but the Delawares still remained firm; and he and his two noted associates moved on to the westward, among the Shawanese upon the Scioto. However, the principal chief of the Delawares sent word to that tribe not to put confidence in their representations: "Grandchildren! (for so ran the message), "ye Shawanese! Some days ago, a flock of birds, that had come on from the east, lit at our village, imposing a song had come on from the east, lit at our village, imposing a song of theirs upon us, which song had nigh, proved our ruin! If these birds, which, on leaving us took their flight toward Scioto, endeavor to impose a song on you likewise do not listen to them, for they lie!"

GIRTY now started for Detroit. On his way thither he was captured by the Wyandots. Recognized, however, by some Senecas, the latter demanded him as their prisoner, stating at the same time the nature of their claim; that he had been adopted by them, and had afterwards joined their white enemies and taken up arms against them. But Leatherlips, a distinguished Wyandot chief, ignored their claim to the prisoner. "By your own showing," said,he, "he only returned to his own country and people. Ever after then you can have no claim upon him as one of your own. He is now found in our country bearing arms. He was captured by our warriors. He is our prisoner." This argument was unanswerable, and the Senecas yielded the point. But GIRTY stated to his captors, in the Seneca language, that he had been badly treated at Fort Pitt, by his own people, on account of being true to the king and his cause, and was therefore forced to leave the country; and that he was on his way now to Detroit to take up arms against the Americans. He was thereupon set at liberty.

Arriving at Detroit, GIRTY was welcomed by HAMILTON, the commandant of the post, very cordially, and immediately employed in the Indian department, at sixteen York shillings a day, and sent back to the Sandusky, to assist the savages in their warfare upon the border. He took up his residence with the Wyandots. His influence soon began to be felt in the Indian Confederacy; sometimes with the Shawanese and again with the Wyandots on their murderous forays into the border settlements; he was always a leader with them. His name became a household word of terror all along the border from Pittsburgh to the falls of the Ohio. With it was associated everything cruel and fiendlike. To the women and children in particular; nothing was more terrifying than the name of Simon GIRTY. Although he called himself "Captain GIRTY," yet whether he ever received a commission from the British government, as did his associate, ELLIOTT, is a mooted question. His lack of education was probably the cause, if he was not commissioned; he could not write his name. It is certain, however, that he was in the regular pay of Great Britain.

Strangely enough, one of GIRTY'S first exploits, after becoming fairly domiciled among the Indians, was highly creditable to him. Mention has been made of his intimacy, during DUNMORE'S war, with Simon KENTON. The latter was brought a captive to the Mac-a-chack town, in September, 1778, at which time GIRTY also happened to be in the Shawanese villages. KENTON was under sentence of death, and was to be burned at Wapatomika, just below the site of the present village of Zanesfield, Logan county, Ohio, where he was now awaiting his doom. GIRTY came to see the prisoner, and, as the latter had been painted black-a custom among the Indians when captives are to be burned-did not recognize his old associate. A few words between them, however, was enough for a recognition; whereupon GIRTY threw himself into KENTON'S arms, calling him his dear and esteemed friend. "Well," said he to KENTON, "you are condemned to die; but I will do all I can-use every means in my power to save your life." GIRTY immediately had a council convened, and made a long speech to the Indians, in their own language, to save the life of their prisoner. This they consented to, and KENTON was placed under the care and protection of his benefactor, by whom he was well cared for. The Indians, however, again condemned him to death, but GIRTY induced them to take him to Sandusky, when, at the interposition of a captain in the British service, he was sent to Detroit, and finally effected his escape.

GIRTY now began his wild career against the border settlements. General MCINTOSH wrote from Fort Pitt, under date of 29th January following, that Captain CLARK, of the Eighth Pennsylvania regiment, while returning from Fort Laurens with a sergeant and fourteen men, was attacked three miles from that post, by Simon GIRTY and a party of Mingoes, who killed two of his men, wounded four and took one prisoner. From this time onward, to the approach of CRAWFORD and his army against Sandusky, his career is mostly known by his cruel visitations of the frontier. His headquarters were at Sandusky, where he exercised great influence over the Half King, head chief of the Wyandots. He was frequently at Detroit; and DE PEYSTER, the commandant, who had succeeded HAMILTON upon the capture of the latter at Vincennes, on the 25th of February, 1779, by George Rogers CLARK, found him ready for any undertaking, either against the Americans or the missionaries and their converts upon the Muskingum, as his hostility to the latter seemed as unbounded as to the former. Sharing with him in his hate were his associates, ELLIOTT and MCKEE.

In the early part of July, 1779, a party of Indians, led by GIRTY, attempted to kill or capture David ZEISBERGER, one of the missionaries, who was then at Lichtenau, a Christian Indian village on the east bank of the Muskingum, two and a half miles below the site of the present town of Coshocton, Ohio, but which was deserted soon after. The missionaries, having received timely information of the design by the arrival of Alexander MCCORMICK, the trader living at Sandusky, were on the alert; and although the Moravian teacher came near being captured or killed, yet the assailants were so warmly received by the Delawares, who showed a determination, upon this occasion, to protect ZEISBERGER by all means in their power, that GIRTY was forced to retreat, "gnashing his teeth in impotent rage."

Upon the arrival of the Christian Indians and their teachers in the Sandusky country, in October, 1781, they were brought almost face to face with their arch-enemy at the Half King's residence. GIRTY was one of the plotters of the scheme which resulted in the breaking up of the missionary establishments upon the Muskingum. He seemed to take delight in rudely treating the missionaries while in their winter quarters near Sandusky. The Moravian Heckwelder says: "At one time, just as my wife had set down to what was intended for our dinner, the Half King, Simon GIRTY, and another Wyandot entered my cabin, and seeing the victuals ready, without ceremony began eating." In the final removal of the missionaries from the Indian country to Detroit, resulting in the entire disbanding of the Christian Indians, GIRTY was one of the chief instruments-a willing tool in the hands of the Half King-the power behind the throne.

Pomoacan was determined to drive the Moravians from the Sandusky. In April, just previous to the advent of CRAWFORD'S army, GIRTY tried to induce MCCORMICK, who was still a resident of the Half King's town, to write a letter to DE PEYSTER, at Detroit, for the Wyandot chief, implicating the missionaries as his enemies. But the trader refused. However, some one was found to write for him as he and GIRTY desired; and a response was soon received, ordering the Moravians to leave the country, and asking the Half King to give GIRTY assistance in bringing them and their families to Detroit.

On the 1st day of March, a messenger, sent by the Half King and GIRTY, arrived at the rude cabins of the missionaries, ordering them to appear before them the next morning to hear the letter read. Accordingly, two of them, ZEISBERGER and HECKWELDER, although the order was for all to go, started for the residence of the chief, nearly eight miles down the river, where they finally arrived after a toilsome walk through the deep snow, and found GIRTY and the Half King already waiting for them at the house of MCCORMICK. At the meeting GIRTY insulted the Moravians, giving them the letter to read, with a string of black wampum to intimidate them. He extorted a written pledge from these teachers to meet him at Lower Sandusky in two weeks, with all the missionaries and their families, to be conducted by him to Detroit.

On the morning of the 13th of March a Frenchman named Francis LEVALLIE, from Lower Sandusky, informed the missionaries that GIRTY had gone, with a war-party of Wyandots, against the border settlements upon the Ohio, and that he had been deputed to take his place. He told them, also, that GIRTY had ordered him to drive them before him to Detroit the same as if they were cattle, and not make a halt for the purpose of the women giving suck to their children; and that he should take them around the head of Lake Erie, and make them foot every step of the way. The humane Franchman saw fit, however, to disobey orders. He treated them kindly; and in four days journey brought them to Lower Sandusky, where they were hospitably received by ARUNDLE and ROBBINS, traders from Detroit, while LEVALLIE wrote DE PEYSTER to send boats for their transportation thence to their place of destination.

Awaiting the arrival of the boats from Detroit, the missionaries became uneasy lest GIRTY should return from his murderous foray against the Americans and find his orders disobeyed; in which event they would have the worst to fear. "He did return," is the testimony of HECKWELDER, "and behaved like a madman on hearing that we were here, and that our conductor had disobeyed his orders, and had sent a letter to the commandant at Detroit respecting us. He flew at the Frenchman, who was in the room adjoining ours, most furiously, striking at him, and threatening to split his head in two for disobeying the orders he had given him. He swore the most horrid oaths respecting us, and continued in that way until after midnight. His oaths were all to the purport that he would never leave the house until he split our heads in two with his tomahawk and made our brains stick to the walls of the room in which we were! I omit the names he called us by, and the words he made use of while swearing, as also the place he would go to if he did not fulfill all which he had sworn he would do to us. He had somewhere procured liquor, and would as we were told by those who were near him, at every drink renew his oaths, which he repeated until he fell asleep.

"Never before did any of us hear the like oaths, or know any one to rave like him. He appeared like an host of evil spirits. He would sometimes come up to the bolted door between us and him, threatening to chop it in pieces to get at us. No Indian we ever saw drunk would have been a match for him. How we should escape the clutches of this white beast in human form no one could foresee. Yet at the proper time, relief was at hand; for, in the morning, at the break of day, and while he was still sleeping, two large flat bottomed boats arrived from Detroit, for the purpose of taking us to that place. This was joyful news! And seeing the letter written by the commandant to Mr ARUNDLE respecting us, we were satisfied we would be relieved from the hands of this wicked white savage, whose equal, we were led to believe, was perhaps not to be found among mankind."

GIRTY afterwards returned to Sandusky and plotted against the Christian Indians, who after their teachers were gone, disbanded, most of them proceeding to the Scioto, while others, as before mentioned, stopped for a while in the neighboorhood, at Pipe's town-all intending to meet together, after some time, on the Maumee and there establish themselves-when, CRAWFORD's army approaching, a few, as already intimated, took up arms and joined the Delawares, under Captain PIPE. Shortly after the Christian Indians were thus scattered, news arrived of the probable invasion of the Sandusky country by the Americans and GIRTY now busied himself in assisting the gathering was as great with the war-chiefs of the Delawares as with Zhaus-sho-toh or the Half King. ELLIOTT, therefore, upon his arrival at Sandusky, as before stated, found GIRTY full of excitement and ferocious zeal.

Passing over the events of the few days following the advent of ELLIOTT to the Indian lines, wherein GIRTY, as we shall hereafter see, played a notable part, we loose trace of him to August following, when the 16th of that month, we find him the leader of a large Indian force against BRYANT'S Station, five miles from Lexington, Kentucky. The Kentuckians made such a gallant resistance that the Indians become disheartened and were about abandoning the siege, when GIRTY, thinking he might frighten the garrison into a surrender, mounted a stump within speaking distance and commenced a parley. He told them who he was; that he looked hourly for reinforcements with cannon, and that they had better surrender at once, if they did so, no one should be hurt; otherwise he feared they would all be killed. The garrison were intimidated; but one young man named REYNOLDS, seeing the effect of this harrangue, and believing his story, as it was, to be false, of his own accord answered him: "You need not be so particular to tell us your name, we know your name and you too. I've had a villanous, untrustworthy cur-dog this long while, named Simon GIRTY, in compliment to you; he's so like you-just as ugly and just as wicked. As to the cannon, let them come on; the country's roused, and the scalps of your red cut-throats, and your own too, will be drying on our cabins in twenty-four hours." This spirited reply produced good results. GIRTY in turn was disheartened, and, with his Indians, soon withdrew. The country was indeed aroused. The enemy were pursued to the Blue Licks, where lying in ambuscade, the Kentuckians, three days after, suffered a cruel defeat. This, it is believed, was the last battle GIRTY was in during the Revolution, as peace was soon after declared, and comparative tranquillity was restored along the western border.

During the next seven years but little is recorded of the noted desperado. He, however, remained in the Indian country, employed it is believed, most of the time, in trading with the savages. Certain it is that he lost meanwhile none of their confidence or esteem, for, when war again broke out between the United States and the Indians of the Northwest in 1790, rendered famous by the campaign of HARMAR of that year; of ST CLAIR, in 1791; and of Wayne , in 1794; GIRTY again became a famous character. After ST. CLAIR'S defeat, a grand council was held at the confluences of the Maumee and the Auglaize, by nearly all the Northwestern tribes; to take into consideration the situation of affairs. Simon GIRTY was the only white man permitted to be present. His voice was for a continuance of the war. Another conference was held in 1793, and it was determined, mainly through the exertions of GIRTY, to continue hostilities. But the decisive victories of the next year, gained by WAYNE, forever destroyed the power of the Indians of the Northwest, and the famous treaty of Greenville brought about an enduring peace, in 1795.

In this second war against his countrymen, GIRTY made his first appearance in the attack on Dunlap's station, early in 1791- a point on the east side of the Great Miami river, eight miles from the spot where the town of Hamilton now is, in Butler county, Ohio, and seventeen miles from Cincinnati. The station was most gallantly defended, and GIRTY was compelled to retire without effecting its capture. The last battle in which he was known to be actively engaged was at St Clair's defeat, on the 4th of November, 1791, twenty-three miles north of the present town of Greenville, county-seat of Darke county, Ohio. Among the dead he found and recognized the body of General Richard BUTLER, second in command of the American army. On the retreat and general rout of our army, GIRTY captured a white woman. A wyandot squaw who accompanied the warriors of her nation, perceiving this, demanded the prisoner, on the ground that usage gave all female captives to the women accompanying the braves. GIRTY refused and became furious, when some warriors came up and enforced a compliance with this rule of the Indians, to the great relief of the prisoner. The woman was afterward sold to a respectable French family in Detroit.

After this GIRTY was engaged in the Indian trade at Lower Sandusky, going thence to "GIRTY'S town," on the St. Mary's where he established a trading-house on the site of the present town of St Mary's, in Mercer county, Ohio, which he must have abandoned while General WAYNE was marching his army to the victory of the "Fallen Timbers" on the 20th of August, 1794, for he was present upon that occasion with his old associates, ELLIOTT and MCKEE, though they kept at a respectable distance from the contest, near the river. After the treaty of Greenville, GIRTY sold his trading establishment at GIRTY'S town to an Irishman named Charlie MURRAY, and removed to Canada, where he settled on a farm just below Malden, on the Detroit river.

GIRTY married in the neighborhood and raised a family. In vain he tried to become a decent citizen, and command some degree of respect. The depravity of his untamed and undisciplined nature was too apparant. He was abhorred by all his neighbors. In the war of 1812, GIRTY, being then nearly blind, was incapable of active service. After the capture of the British fleet on Lake Erie, in 1813, and upon the invasion of Canada immediately after, he followed the British army on their retreat, leaving his family at home. He fixed his residence at a Mohawk village on Grand river, Canada, until the proclamation of peace, when he returned to his farm below Malden, where he died in 1818, aged over seventy years.

"The last time I saw GIRTY," writes William WALKER, "was in the summer of 1813. From my recollection of his person he was in height five feet six or seven inches; broad across the chest; strong, round, compact limbs, and of fair complexion. To any one scrutinizing him, the conclusion would forcibly impress the observer that GIRTY was endowed by nature with great powers of endurance." SPENCER, a prisoner among the Indians, who saw GIRTY before he left the Indian country, was not favorably impressed with his visage: "His dark, shaggy hair; his low forehead; his brows contracted, and meeting above his short flat nose; his gray, sunken eyes, averting the ingenious gaze; his lips thin and compressed; and the dark and sinister expression of his countenance, to me seemed the very picture of a villain."

No other country or age ever produced, perhaps, so brutal depraved and wicked a wretch as Simon GIRTY. He was sagacious and brave; but his sagacity and bravery only made him a greater monster of cruelty. All of the vices of civilization seemed to center in him, and by him were ingrafted upon those of the savage state, without the usual redeeming qualities of either. He moved about through the Indian country during the war of the Revolution and the Indian war which followed, a dark whilwind of fury, desperation and barbarity. In the refinements of torture inflicted on helpless prisoners, as compared with the Indians, he "out-heroded Herod." In treachery, he stood unrivaled.

There ever rankled in his bosom a most deadly hatred of his country. He seemed to revel in the very excess of malignity toward his old associates. So horrid was his wild ferocity and savageness, that the least relenting seemed to be acts of positive goodness-luminous sparks in the very blackness of darkness! "I have fully glutted my vengeance," said the Mingo Logan, when he had taken a scalp for each of his relations murdered; but the revenge of Simon GIRTY was gorged with numberless victims, of all ages and of either sex! It seemed as insatiable as the grave itself. And what is the more astonishing is, that such insatiety could arise in any human breast upon a mere fancied neglect!-for it will be remembered that he deserted to the enemy because of not being promoted to the command of a company!

Of GIRTY'S fool-hardiness, there is ample testimony. He got into a quarrel at one time with a Shawanese, caused by some misunderstanding in a trade. While bandying hard words to each other, the Indian, by an innuendo, questioned his opponent's courage. GIRTY instantly produced a half-keg of powder, and snatching a fire-brand, called upon the savage to stand by him. The latter, not deeming this a legitimate mode of settling dispute, hastily evacuated the premises!

Upon one subject, however, GIRTY seemed to be ill at ease. He was curious to know of prisoners what was in store for him should he be captured by the Americans. The idea of falling into the hands of his outraged countrymen, was, in short, a terror to him. In the summer of 1796, when the British surrendered the posts of the northwest to the United States, GIRTY was at Detroit. When the boats laden with our troops came in sight, he became so much alarmed that he could not wait for the return of the ferry-boat, but plunged his horse into the river, at the risk of drowning, and made for the Canada shore, which he reached in safety; pouring out a volley of maledictions as he rose up the opposite bank upon the United States government and troops mingled with all the diabolical oaths his imagination could coin.

The grandfather of Rev. J. B. JOHNSTON, of St. Clairsville, O., who, during the Revolution, had command of a block-house in Westmoreland county, Pa., on one occasion held Simon GIRTY as a prisoner, but the date of the event we are unable to obtain. He effected his release by pretending to be friendly to the Americans.

Simon GIRTY was little, if any, less cruel and bloodthirsty than his brothers, but his restless activity and audacity, and his conduct in first pretending friendship for the American cause, and afterwards deserting to the British, made him the most notorious and hated of the family. He was cunning, unscrupulous, and almost constantly engaged, after his desertion from Fort Pitt, in some raid, or murdering, or plundering expedition. His shrewdness and daring, well fitted him for a leader in such enterprises.

There are many localities that have become historical by some tragic scene, or other notable event in this man's career, some of which bear his name. There is, near the Ohio, on the north side of Short creek, an abrupt termination of one of the river ridges, known as "Girty's point." It was his favorite place for striking into the interior. The path first used by the Indians is still used by the people of the neighborhood.

He left a family with a name execrated wherever he was known.

THOMAS GIRTY alone, of the four brothers, returned to civilized life. He was one of BRADY'S spies in the Indian wars after the revolution, and died, perhaps, in Butler, Pa., in 1820.