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Seneca John's Execution

Death of Seneca John

Henry C. Brish was the local Indian agent. His account of the execution of Seneca John was published by Henry Howe, who quoted him as follows:

"From Mr. Brish, we have received an interesting narrative of the execution for witchcraft of one of these Indians, named Seneca John, who was one of the best men of his tribe.

"About the year 1825, Coonstick, Steel and Cracked Hoof left the reservation for the double purpose of a three years hunting and trapping excursion, and to seek a location for a new home for the tribe in the far West.

"At the time of their starting, Comstock, the brother of the first two, was the principal chief of the tribe. On their return in 1828, richly laden with furs and horses, they found Seneca John, their fourth brother, chief, in place of Comstock, who had died during their absence.

"Comstock was the favorite brother of the two, and they at once charged Seneca John with producing his death by witchcraft. John denied the charge in a strain of eloquence rarely equalled. Said he, 'I loved my brother Comstock more than I love the green earth I stand upon. I would give myself, limb by limb, piecemeal by piecemeal-I would shed my blood, drop by drop to restore him to life.' But all his protestations of innocence and affection for his brother Comstock were of no avail. His two other brothers pronounced him guilty and declared their determination to be his executioners.

"John replied that he was willing to die and only wished to live until the next morning, "to see the sun rise once more." This request being granted, John told them that he should sleep that night on Hard Hickory's porch, which fronted the east, where they would find him at sunrise. He chose that place because he did not wish to be killed in the presence of his wife, and desired that the chief, Hard Hickory, should witness that he died like a brave man.

"Coonstick and Steel retired for the night to an old cabin near by. In the morning, in company with Shane, another Indian, they proceeded to the house of Hard Hickory, who was my informant of what there happened.

"He said, a little after sunrise he heard their footsteps upon the porch, and opened the door just enough to peep out. He saw John asleep upon his blanket, while they stood around him. At length one of them awoke him. He arose upon his feet and took off a large handkerchief which was around his head, letting his unusually long hair fall upon his shoulders. This being done, he looked around upon the landscape and at the rising sun, to take a farewell look of a scene that he was never again to behold and then told them he was ready to die.

"Shane and Coonstick each took him by the arm, and Steel walked behind. In this way they led him about ten steps from the porch, when Steel struck him with a tomahawk on the back of his head, and he fell to the ground, bleeding freely. Supposing this blow sufficient to kill him, they dragged him under a peach tree near by. In a short time, however, he revived; the blow having been broken by his great mass of hair. Knowing that it was Steel who struck the blow, John, as he lay, turned his head towards Coonstick and said, 'Now brother, do you take your revenge.' This so operated upon the feelings of Coonstick, that he interposed to save him; but it enraged Steel to such a degree, that he drew his knife and cut John's throat from ear to ear, and the next day he was buried with the usual Indian ceremonies, not more than twenty feet from where he fell. Steel was arrested and tried for the murder in Sandusky county, and acquitted.

"The grave of Seneca John was surrounded by a small picket enclosure. Three years after, when I was preparing to move them to the far West, I saw Coonstick and Steel remove the picket-fence and level the ground, so that no vestige of the grave remained."

(Excerpted from: Historical Collections of Ohio, by Henry Howe, published in 1848.)

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