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Simon Girty

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1905 illustration of Girty

Simon Girty (November 14, 1741 – February 18, 1818)[a] also known by his Seneca Nation name, Katepacomen, or "Renegade Girty" was a Pennsylvania-born loyalist and white chief of several tribes within the Shawnee-Iroquoian nations between the period of 1777 - 1812, and slave owner.[2] Girty is most well known for overseeing the brutal torture and murder of Col William Crawford in 1782,[3] and serving as the chief of a Miami tribe whose band of 400 warriors killed Major James Fontaine, the son of General Charles Scott during General Josiah Harmar's campaign.[4]

Early life[edit]

Simon Girty was born to Simon Girtee and Mary Newton near Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. Girtee, a staunch Loyalist, was listed as a licensed Indian trader in 1740[5] and arrived in Pennsylvania sometime in the 1730s from Ireland. During his tenure operating a trading post, Girtee and Mary had four sons: Thomas, Simon, James, and George sometime between 1739–1746.[citation needed]

In 1750, a two year long complaint lodged by the Six Nations met its culmination, white settlers were illegally trespassing on Six Nations land and erecting homes, fences and other structures, the government sent Richard Peters of Philadelphia and Conrad Weiser and an Indian interpreter to consult with magistrates at Carlisle and have the trespassers removed. In 1748, Pennsylvania sent Conrad Weiser to Logstown, a council and trade village on the Ohio River. Here he held council with chiefs representing 10 tribes, including the Lenape, Shawnee, and the six nations of the Iroquois. Threatened by this development and the continued activity of British traders in the Ohio Valley, the French redoubled their diplomatic efforts, however in 1750, when Weiser traveled again to Onondaga, he found that the political dynamics in the Six Nations had shifted. Canasatego, always pro-British, had died. Some Iroquois tribes were leaning toward the French, although the Mohawk remained loyal to the Crown.

The magistrate reported that the trespassers had been at Sherman’s creek about six miles over the mountain, and found there James Parker, Thomas Parker, Owen McKeil, John McClare, Richard Kirkpatrick, James Murray, John Scott, Henry Glass, John Cowan, Simon Girtee, and John Kilgore, all who had settled lands and erected cabins or log houses there; and having convicted them of trespassing had them give bonds to appear at court to answer for their trespasses.

“The said trespassers had likewise given bonds in the sum of five hundred penalty to remove immediately with all their servants, cattle and effects, and had delivered possession of their homes to Mr. George Stevenson for the proprietor's use, and that Mr. Stevenson had ordered some of the meanest of the cabins set on fire.”

In December 1750, after being forcefully relocated to the Conococheague settlement, Girtee and Samuel Sanders (or Saunders) in what historical accounts refer to as a "drunken braw" fought which ended with Girtee's death.

Three years after Girtee was killed, his wife Mary married John Turner, Girtee's half-brother. She and her young sons, who were uneducated, did not know how to spell and listed the spelling of their name phonetically as "Girty".

In 1756, Girty and his brothers Thomas and James were taken captive by a Shawnee war band after an attack on their residence in Fort Granville.[6] Girty's mother and step-father were scalped and murdered by the war band, and Simon Girty was transferred to the Seneca tribe, where at the age of 15 he underwent his rite of passage and was given his Indian name, Katepacomen, and where he remained until 1764.

Teenage years[edit]

Simon Girty, "the White Savage," etching from Thomas Boyd's 1928 book by the same title.[7]

Simon Girty lived with Guyasuta, Mingo and Seneca region tribes for seven years. He was returned to the British in November 1764, during a prisoner exchange after the end of Pontiac's War, but upon going back to Pennsylvania he immediately returned to his former tribe, who had to convince him to leave.[citation needed]

On October 17, 1764, British commander Henry Bouquet demanded that the Ohio Indians return all captives, including those not yet returned from the French and Indian War. Chief Guyasuta and other native leaders reluctantly handed over more than 200 captives, many of whom had been adopted into Indian families. On November 14, 1764, Simon Girty returned to the British after a prisoner exchange, and resurfaced near Fort Pitt. Simon Girty was fluent in the Algonquian language dialects, but due to his full immersion and upbringing in the native tribal culture he was unable to read and write in English upon his return.

Treason and murderer[edit]

Girty, a former interpreter, briefly served as a messenger for Earl Dunmore in Lord Dunmore's War in 1774. Nervous about his personal safety, Dunmore stopped at Fort Pitt instead of meeting Colonel Andrew Lewis. There he commissioned two men to deliver a correspondence to Colonel Lewis: the first man was local British loyalist-Indian interpreter and trader Simon Girty, whom he commissioned as a Lieutenant; Girty's companion was Simon Kenton. Upon returning back to Fort Pitt, Girty accompanied Dunmore briefly to Fort Gowen. This period, which lasted less than one year, was the only period in which Girty was officially employed in the militia. Girty saw no combat, he did not participate in the Battle of Point Pleasant, and his name does not appear on the list of veterans.[8] Shortly before departing back to Pennsylvania, in the presence of Major William Crawford, Girty attempted to receive compensation from Colonel Lewis for delivering the letter on behalf of Lord Dunmore. Colonel Lewis refused, and ordered him out of his tent.

After the Battle of Point Pleasant ended, and Major Crawford returned back to Fort Pitt. Girty attempted to marry Crawford's daughter and frequented Crawford's residence multiple times. Crawford rejected the proposal,[9] and shortly thereafter, Girty deserted his post at Fort Pitt, perhaps in part due to growing hostilities between the Colonials and the Tories.

In 1775 or 1776, Girty's application for service in the Eighth Regiment of the Pennsylvania Continental Army was rejected.[10] In September 1777, now an enemy of the American colonies, Girty led a failed siege against the Continental troops stationed at Fort Henry with support from British and Canadian Lt. Governor Hamilton.

On April 20, 1778, Simon Girty, along with Edward Hazel, a British Indian agent, and Leatherlips, a Wyandot chief, reached Detroit, where Henry Hamilton employed Simon at sixteen shillings a day $800 (~$13,065 in 2023).[citation needed] These events led to Girty's arrest warrant for High Treason by the United States of America starting on June 17, 1778, which was signed by Timothy Matlack and George Bryan.[11] Simon, James, and George Girty, along with Alexander McKee and Matthew Elliot, were considered outlaws, and guilty of treason. Immediately before or after publication of the arrest warrants, McKee and Elliot left Pennsylvania for the Six Nations. Pennsylvania placed a $800 bounty on Simon Girty's head for inciting murder against fellow Americans, and acting as an agent for the British.[12]

Siege of Fort Henry[edit]

Siege of Fort Henry, in September of 1777, the combined arms of British and Indians against the stockade at Wheeling, Virginia commenced. Information had been conveyed to General Hand, commanding at Fort Pitt, by some friendly Morovian Indians, who received it from Isaac Zane, that a large army of Indians composed of warriors from the North-Western Confederacy were making vigorous preparations to strike a blow on the settlements on the Ohio. It was further stated that the Indian band was under the command of army deserter, and loyalist, Simon Girty. General Hand lost no time in disseminating the information.

On August 31, 1777, the Indian army consisted of over 350 Mingos, Shawnee, and Wyandotts commanded by Girty, with arms and ammunition furnished by Hamilton, Lt. Governor of Canada. On September 1, 1777, "Girty presented himself at the window of a cabin, holding forth a white flag and offering a condition of peace. He read Hamilton's proclamation, and in a stentorian voice demanded the surrender of the fort, offering in case they complied, protection; but if they refused, immediate and indiscriminate massacre. Colonel David Shepard refused the request, and within several hours Girty alongside a large body of Indians made an instant tremendous rush upon the fort."

Girty's attempt to force open the gates failed, and he ordered his men to fire upon the port holes. The attack lasted nearly two days, where Girty ordered all the cattle be killed as they fled, upon reinforcements from Colonel Andrew Swearengen from Holliday's Fort (twenty-four miles north). The attack resulted in forty to fifty of Girty's men killed and none killed or wounded inside Fort Henry.[13]

Siege of Fort Laurens[edit]

On February 22, 1779 - March 1779, Simon Girty alongside British Captain Bird and warriors of the Wyandot, Mingo, Munsee, and Delaware laid siege to Fort Laurens.[14]

Ambush on convoy[edit]

On October 1, 1779, Girty and Alexander McKee, leading a large band of Indian warriors, ambushed a peaceful convoy of provisions which had been procured by American states from the Spanish in New Orleans. Girty's forces ambushed the convoy near Dayton, Kentucky, across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, Ohio. Only a handful of the one hundred survived, among them Colonel John Campbell and Captain Robert Benham.[citation needed]

Murder and torture of Colonel William Crawford[edit]

On June 11, 1782, Girty's former commander, Colonel William Crawford, surrendered after a three week battle known as the Sandusky expedition against Girty and the Delaware Indians of the Wingenim tribe. Colonel Crawford's surgeon, Dr. John Knight, was also captured. Dr. Knight, in letters and testimony before the Continental Congress, detailed conversations he had with Crawford before he died when he discovered Simon Girty, his former soldier, was a chief member of the Wingenim tribe. Politely, Crawford and Knight were permitted into the village by Girty, but had two Indian guards. The chief, Captain Pipe, ordered Crawford and Knight to have their faces painted black to signify they were slaves and captives of the tribe.

Girty, in a private conversation with Colonel Crawford, and still being civil, informed Crawford that his son and son-in-law were also held captive but in a separate Shawnee camp. Girty lied and informed Crawford that he would do his best to see to his release and release the five other prisoners still living. Initially, Girty acted as though Crawford would be able to be released as a gesture of comradery along with other prisoners. However, upon a full inspection of the Wingenim tribal village, Knight recalled seeing four prisoners scalped and dead laying on the ground. Knight recalled the identity of one killed prisoner, Lieutenant John McKinley, a former officer in the 13th Virginia Regiment, whose head had been cut off and the warriors were kicking it around.

Girty then approached Knight and asked if he were a doctor, to which Knight responded "yes". Shortly thereafter Girty and Pipe led them to a fire pit where Girty ordered Colonel Crawford to be stripped naked at the fire and beaten with sticks and fists as he was tied to hickory poles six to seven yards from the fire. Next, Girty ordered burning logs to be placed on Crawford's skin, followed by ordering the warriors to cut off his ears. In a plea for death amidst the extreme torture, Crawford yelled at Girty to shoot him – to which Girty rejected and "laughed heartily and by all gestures seemed delighted at the horrid scene," stating he did not have a gun. Girty then was observed by Knight to order the warriors to shoot Crawford with only powder shots, which caused the flesh to burn. After over 70 blanks were shot at Crawford, he finally succumbed to death over two hours later. Girty then scalped Crawford and continuously placed his scalp in Knight’s face and mouth, saying, "That was my great captain." Girty expressed to Knight that "He swore to by God, I need not expect to escape death, but should suffer it in all its extremities."

British-Indian Council[edit]

Early in August 1782 a grand council was convened, being led by "white murderers Col Alexander McKee and Simon Girty." The council summoned warriors from the Cherokee, Wyandott, Ottawa, Pottawatomie, Shawnee, Mingo and others. Simon Girty was the elected chief of the Mingo tribe. It was after his speech that Major Caldwell, the British Commandant at Detroit, invited Girty to further assist the British cause against the Americans.

Ambush on Bryan Station and Battle of Blue Licks[edit]

On August 19, 1782, Simon Girty, under the command of William Caldwell, along with about 300 Shawnee natives and British Canadians, attacked Bryan Station. Three days later, his band ambushed Daniel Boone and Colonel Todd at the Battle of Blue Licks. Girty's conduct was described by a veteran of the battle to be "the unusual scene of torturing the wounded and prisoners following the defeat."[15] Girty's character was also described in this battle to be the "most discouraging stroke to that infant settlement." Both Todd and Boone were in Lord Dunmore's War in 1774.[16]

Second Siege of Fort Henry[edit]

On September 11, 1782, George Girty commanded a band of 150 Shawnee warriors under Simon Girty's direction in an attack against Fort Henry. The men marched in "regular file," beating a drum while ordering the surrender of the fort, which also included fifty loyalists. The second siege of Fort Henry is referred to as the last battle of the Revolutionary War.

Harmar's Expedition[edit]

Monday, December 20, 1790 the Hartford Courant, published an extract from a Letter dated November 25, 1790 – from a messenger on the expedition, the remainder of the group continued. The report detailed General Josiah Harmar had been defeated in three separate engagements in the expedition in the Kentucky region, resulting in 180 men killed including Major James Fontaine, the son of General Scott. Simon Girty, the chief of a Miami tribe, commanded approximately 100 whites and 300 Indians, who were observed to be building a blockade to include a cannon: in addition to receiving more Indian troops.

Northwest Indian War[edit]

Captain Gibson[edit]

1794, Simon Girty was reported to live "up in the rapids" in the Michigan region, commanding a Miami Indian tribe along with several whites. At the time Girty was publicly proclaiming it was he who had scalped and killed Captain Gibson.

Post Indian Wars[edit]

After the end of the war, Simon Girty settled in Upper Canada (now Ontario) along with other Loyalists and Indian allies of the British, such as nations of the Iroquois Confederacy. They were granted land by the British Crown in recognition of their service during the war. He retired to his farm near Fort Malden (present-day Amherstburg, Ontario) prior to the outbreak of the War of 1812. Girty's son was killed in that conflict, reportedly while trying to rescue a wounded British officer from the battlefield.[citation needed]

Modern representations and myths[edit]

Modern historical accounts of Simon Girty largely from Canadian biographers portray Girty to be a servant of the world, who rose up against the tyrannical Colonial government for a higher cause such as "Simon Girty: His War on the Frontier" (1999), "Simon Girty: Wilderness Warrior." Canada. (2011), and "Simon Girty: Interpreter and Intermediary" (1989).

Popular myths account for three people who claimed they were Simon Girty. One Simon Girty fled to Canada; one Simon Girty was said to have been killed with Tecumseh at the Battle of the Thames, and one Simon Girty was said to have been killed in Pocahontas, Virginia.[17]

Representation in culture[edit]

  • Simon Girty, the Outlaw. An Historical Romance (1846), was a novel by Uriah James Jones portraying him as a renegade.
  • Simon Girty: "The White Savage" A Romance of the Border (1880) was a novel by Charles McKnight.
  • Simon Girty is a pivotal figure, objectively represented, in the Allan Eckert historical novel The Frontiersmen.
  • Simon Girty, along with his brothers, is vilified in Zane Grey's frontier trilogy series, Betty Zane, The Spirit of the Border and The Last Trail.
  • Joseph Altsheler features Simon Girty as a turncoat and villain in several of his "Young Trailer Series" of eight juvenile fiction books, published from 1907–1911.
  • Girty is played by John Carradine in the 1936 film Daniel Boone.
  • Simon Girty was featured as one of the jury members in Stephen Vincent Benét's short story "The Devil and Daniel Webster" and in the 1941 movie of the same title. In that story, he is described as "the renegade, who saw white men burned at the stake and whooped with the Indians to see them burn".
  • Simon Girty is played by Kem Dibbs and portrayed as a French/Cherokee renegade, working with a fictional Shawnee chief against Daniel Boone in the 1956 film Daniel Boone, Trailblazer.
  • Hugh Henry Brackenridge edited the detailed recollections of a witness to Crawford's execution. Published as Dr. Knight's Narrative, this account influenced Girty's reputation as a renegade. 20th-century historians have researched the account and questioned the bias of Brackenridge in his version.[18]
  • Simon Girty is featured as a character in Julius de Gruyter's novel Drum Beats on the Sandusky (1969). This novel portrays one of Crawford's young volunteer soldiers' reprieve from Indian capture and his subsequent adventures in Girty's custody.
  • Canadian playwright Ed Butts wrote a play entitled, The Fame of Simon Girty.
  • Girty: Historical Fiction in Prose and Poetry, by Richard Taylor.[19]
  • Girty appears as a character in the fictional novel The Dakota Cipher by William Dietrich.
  • At the beginning of Episode 12, Season 2, airing December 12, 1966, "The Night of the Man Eating House", of the CBS TV show The Wild Wild West, the title character, James West (Robert Conrad), mentions Girty, along with Benedict Arnold as he describes the escaped prisoner he, his partner Artemus Gordon (Ross Martin) and the Sheriff (William Talman) have been assigned to return to prison: Liston Day (Hurd Hatfield). Thirty years earlier, in the Anglos' struggle with the Mexicans for Texas, Day was charged with and convicted of being a renegade and a traitor, guilty of the deaths of many Americans—like Girty. Like Girty, Day grows old and feeble—at least by the beginning of the episode.
  • He is featured as an ambiguous renegade character in Hugo Pratt's graphic novel Fort Wheeling (1962).
  • Girty is featured in the Deerfoot novels by Edward S. Ellis.
  • He is the main character in Indian Lover by Lewis Owen.
  • He is the main character in the graphic novel, Wilderness: The True Story of Simon Girty, The Renegade by Timothy Truman, published from 1989–1990.
  • His choosing to fight on the side of the Native Americans is the inspiration for the 2002 song "Simon Girty's Decision" by Todd Tamanend Clark.
  • He is mentioned in Flood Tides Along the Allegheny.
  • Simon Girty is the main antagonist/central character of historical drama The White Savage at Trumpet in the Land in New Philadelphia, Ohio.[20]
  • Simon Girty the historical figure is portrayed as clever yet sadistic in Harlan Hatcher's book Lake Erie.
  • Girty appears in Ann Finlayson's historical young adult novel Greenhorn on the Frontier


  1. ^ Girty was also referred to as Katepacomen, which was reputed to be an Indian name, but may simply have been an American invention, as was often the case with early historical anecdotes, since no such name or term appears to exist in the most likely native languages: Shawnee, Wyandot, Lenape or Haudenosaunee.[1]
  1. ^ Ranck 1906, p. 283.
  2. ^ Riddell, William Renwick. "Two Incidents of Revolutionary Time" (digital). Northwestern University. f Northwestern University School of Law Scholarly Commons. pp. 231–232. Retrieved 6 February 2024.
  3. ^ PARKINSON, RICHARD; et al. (John Knight) (1805). A tour in America in 1798, 1799, and 1800 (PDF). Vol. 1. Library of Congress: Library of Congress. pp. 43–47.
  4. ^ General Assembly, Virginia (20 December 1790). "Fredericksburg, Virginia - Excerpts of a Letter from Baltimore on Gen. Harmar's expedition". Connecticut Courant - The Weekly Intelligencer. Hartford, Connecticut. p. 3. Retrieved 29 January 2024.
  5. ^ "Simon Girty Sketch of the Famous Renegade Known as the White Savage - His Heartless Cruelty". Cincinnati News-Journal. The Lancaster Examiner. 24 September 1884. Retrieved 30 January 2024 – via Newspapers.com.
  6. ^ Keen, Captain (30 September 1765). "List of English Prisoners Taken". The Maryland Gazette. Baltimore, Maryland. p. 3. Retrieved 29 January 2024.
  7. ^ Boyd 1928.
  8. ^ History of the early settlement and Indian wars of Western Virginia : embracing an account of the various expeditions in the West previous to 1795 ; also, biographical sketches. Philadelphia: Wheeling & Philadelphia: H. Hoblitzell. 1851. pp. 155–156.
  9. ^ Society, State Historical (9 April 1896). "Simon Girty's Cave Found". The Kansas Chief. Troy, Kansas. Retrieved 30 January 2024.
  10. ^ H. E., W. (11 March 1881). "Simon Girty A Sketch of the Lift of Notorious Tory Outlaw". The Sunbury Gazette, and Northumberland County Republican. Sanbury, Pennsylvania. Retrieved 30 January 2024.
  11. ^ Bryan, George (17 June 1778). "Pennsylvania, a Proclamation by the Supreme Executive Council of the Common-Wealth of Pennsylvania". Dunlap and Claypoole's American Daily Advertiser. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. p. 4. Retrieved 29 January 2024.
  12. ^ Butts, Edward. Simon Girty: Wilderness Warrior. Canada: Dundurn, 2011.
  14. ^ Matlack, T (26 August 1779). "Extract from a Letter from a Gentleman of Character of the Frontier dated June 30, 1779". Dunlap Pennsylvania Packet the General Advertiser. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. p. 3. Retrieved 30 January 2024.
  15. ^ Assembly, Pennsylvania (21 October 1782). "Richmond (Virginia) We hear official accounts from the government on the late unfortunate affair near Licking". Pennsylvania Gazette. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Retrieved 30 January 2024.
  16. ^ Assembly, Virginia (19 November 1782). "Extract from a Letter from Washington County Virginia October 2, 1782". Hartford Courant. Hartford, Connecticut. Retrieved 30 January 2024.
  17. ^ Hayden, Rev Horace (2 March 1878). "For the Virginia Historical Society: If Not the Girties who is he?". Richmond Dispatch. Retrieved 30 January 2024.
  18. ^ Brown 1987, pp. 53–67 cited by Eckert 1995, p. [page needed]
  19. ^ Wind Publications
  20. ^ Schoenbrunn Amphitheatre Box Office 2018.


  • Boyd, Thomas (1928), Simon Girty: The White Savage, New York{{citation}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  • Brown, Parker B. (January 1987), "The Historical Accuracy of the Captivity Narrative of Doctor John Knight", The Western Pennsylvania Historical Magazine, vol. 70, no. 1, pp. 53–67
  • Butterfield, Consul Willshire (1950), History of the Girtys: Being a Concise Account of the Girty Brothers—Thomas, Simon, James and George, Columbus, O.H: Long's College Book Co.
  • Eckert, Allan W. (1995), That Dark And Bloody River, Bantam
  • Hoffman, Phillip W. (2009), Simon Girty: Turncoat Hero: The Most Hated Man on the Early American Frontier, Franklin, Tennessee: Flying Camp Press
  • Lough, Glenn D. (1969), Now and long ago: a history of the Marion County area, Morgantown, W. Va.: Printed by Morgantown Print. and Binding Co.
  • Ranck, George W. (1906), Watson, Thomas E. (ed.), "Girty, The White Indian: A study in Early Western History", Watson's magazine, Thomson, Georgia: Jeffersonian Pub. Co., pp. 280–296
  • Schoenbrunn Amphitheatre Box Office (31 October 2018), "Paul Green's Trumpet in the Land", trumpetintheland.com, retrieved 31 October 2018
  • Steele, Ian; Rhoden, Nancy, eds. (1999), "Simon Girty: His War on the Frontier", The Human Tradition and the American Revolution, Scholarly Resources
  • Sword, Wiley (1985), President Washington's Indian War, University of Oklahoma Press, p. 182
  • Watson, Thomas (1912), "Girty, The White Indian", Watson's Magazine (Serial), Jefferson Publishing Co

Further reading[edit]