Saturday, January 12, 2008

The Murder of Mr Wisner

I tracked down a couple of accounts of the murder of a Mr. Wisner in St. Joseph County, Michigan in 1839. I believe that this is probably the murder to which Ethel Wisner referred.
My great grandfather, Daniel D. Wisner was killed by the Indians about 100 years ago in Michigan, near Kalamazoo. This has always seemed an important event in the family history. We have been able to trace the relationship to several Wisners from this Calamity.

“I have just been able to gather a little more data regarding our branch of the Wisner family. My great-great-grandfather installed the first salt works in the United States at Syracuse, NY.

“His son, James Wisner, killed a drunken Indian in a dispute over a horse in St. Joe county, Mich.
Her two accounts appear to be garbled. In the first she states that her great-grandfather was killed. In the second she states that it was his son who did the killing.

Based on what I've found Mr. Wisner is most likely Daniel Dekay Wisner. There was a son named James age 12 to 15 who ran for help. If this is correct he most likely is not the James, age 15, living with William Wisner in 1850. So this lead didn't pan out but it made for an interesting afternoon. Below are the three slightly different accounts that I found. Other posts in this series may be found here.

Title: History of St. Joseph county, Michigan, with illustrations descriptive of its scenery, palatial residences, public buildings , fine blocks, and important manufacturies.
Publication Info: Philadelphia,: L. H. Everts & co., 1877.

Pg 14

The Death of Wisner was the last Indian murder in St. Joseph County, and occurred in the winter of 1839.
Joseph Sin-ben-uim, known by the name of Joseph Muskrat, with his squaw and two children, came to the house of Mr. Wisner, and asked to stay all night; consent was freely given, and a good fire built up in the huge fireplace, in order that all might get warm, they being thoroughly chilled. The Indian was intoxicated, and wanted to wrestle with Wisner, but the latter declined. The Indian held a low conversation, in his own language, with his squaw, after which she seemed much excited, and took the gun and hatchet of her husband, and set them out of doors. The Indians laid down before the fire to sleep. Wisner and his wife did not undress themselves, as though apprehensive of danger. The Indian and the squaw were both restless, and rose several times, and at last the former seized Wisner, who threw him on the bed, and stepped back to the fire. The Indian then rose up from the bed, and before Wisner was aware of his intention, stabbed him (Wisner) in the temple, and he fell dead upon the hearth, with one hand in the fire. Mrs. Wisner pulled her husband out of the fire, but the wretch that had murdered him, interfered and cut one of her hands severely, crippling it for life. Mrs. Wisner called to her son, a boy of twelve years, to run and alarm the neighbors. He immediately darted out of doors, and around the house, pursued by the Indian, but escaped him, and gave the alarm. While the Indian was out, Mrs. Wisner closed the door and barred it against him, whereupon he started with his family for the settlement, stopping at the house of John DeYannond, in the extreme northwest corner of the town of Mendon, where they got refreshments, and stayed about two hours, and then went east on the town line, and were overtaken between Bear Creek and the Portage, by Thomas P. Nolan, who was in advance of his comrades. On discovering Nolan, the Indian tried o shoot him, but his gun missed fire, by reason of the priming being covered to keep it dry. Nolan fired, but missed the Indian, and they then clenched each other, and a severe struggle ensued; but the Indian fell, and was held fast by Nolan until his comrades came up, who tied his legs and hands, and placed him in a “pung” that they had brought along with them, covered him with a blanket, and started for Schoolcraft. Meeting a party of other pursuers, they went back to look at the ground where the struggle had occurred, leaving DeYannond and O. Clark, who were driving the horse and walking behind the sleigh. The latter had proceeded but a short distance, when the Indian, who had succeeded in biting off the rope with which he was bound, sprang from the cutter, and raised the war-hoop, but DeYannond caught him by the wrists, and held him fast. The Indian seized DeYannond’s arm with his teeth, and it through the coat and shirts, wounding the arm severely. He was trown upon his face, his arms tied behind him, and so conveyed to Schoolcraft, where he was tried and sentenced to be hung; but his sentence was subsequently commuted to imprisonment for life. He died about two years afterwards.

Title: Michigan historical collections. [Vol. 38]
Author: Michigan Historical Commission.
Publication Info: Lansing [etc.]: Michigan Historical Commission [etc.],
Collection: Making of America Books
Pg 410
Personal Recollections of Pioneer Days
By Ruth Hoppin
…….. I say terror, for not a month before a neighbor, Mr. Wisner, had been killed at his own fireside by an Indian. Had Mr. Wisner, like my father, been a temperate man, the tragedy would not have occurred. The Indian owed Mr. Wisner a grudge, but only manifested the spirit of revenge when under the influence of liquor. This time he got his victim “to drink too much” and the result was death to the white man. I shall never forget the outcry of voices, when that brave, fifteen-year-old lad, James Wisner, roused us with the cry, “Help! Help!! The Indian has killed my father and I left him trying to kill the rest of the family.” Then there was the hurry of dressing, harnessing and driving rapidly away to save the wife and little ones. How relieved we felt at daylight when a horseman returned, with the word that no others had been killed, although some had been badly hurt. My father and brother did the last duties in dressing the murdered man for the grave. A day later the remains were brought to our house and the funeral was held. ………

CLEWS The Historic True Crime Blog

In 1839 would come news of another white settler murdered by an Indian. In Kalamazoo County, a white family by the name of Wisner allowed an Indian named Joseph Muskrat (or Sin-ben-nim), his wife and two children to take shelter from the harsh winter in their cabin. But one day Joseph Muskrat got drunk, began wrestling with Mr. Wisner, and, when bested, stabbed him in the temple in a fit of pique. Wisner's neighbors arrested Muskrat.
Joseph Muskrat was certain that the white men would burn him to death for his crime, and he was desperate to avoid such suffering. To one white woman who showed him sympathy he said, "Good squaw, good squaw, you tell white man to kill me quick; no burn me, but kill me quick." He also tried to anger the white woman so she would strike him down, so he told her that he murdered one of his own children. "Me very bad Indian," he told her. "You kill me quick, me very bad, me kill papoose, put him under ice in swamp."
Joseph Muskrat was tried in Kalamazoo, found guilty of murder, and condemned to be hanged. But at that exact moment, the newly formed territorial legislature in Detroit abolished capital punishment. Muskrat was the very first beneficiary and was resentenced to a term of life in the newly constructed state prison in Jackson. He served two years before he died and was said to have ended his days heartbroken, docile, and a sincere Christian.


Miriam Robbins said...

Apple, I have been fascinated by this post as well as the previous ones about various Wisners. You certainly are digging deep and finding some great treasures. I hope you are able to find how all these various families are related.

Charley "Apple" Grabowski said...

I'm beginning to wonder if I'll ever be able to prove a relationship to the well documented branches of the Wisners but they provide for interesting research!

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