PHILIP MARTIN: The first school massacre

Before our country was a country, children were being slaughtered in our schoolhouses.

In his 1870 book The Conspiracy of Pontiac and the Indian War After the Conquest of Canada, historian Francis Parkman wrote about the 1764 murder of schoolmaster Enoch Brown and his students during Pontiac's Rebellion, an uprising of native tribes against the British and the colonists following the defeat of the French in the French and Indian War.

"In a solitary place, deep within the settled limits of Pennsylvania, stood a small school-house, one of those rude structures of logs which . . . may be seen in some of the remote northern districts of New England," Parkman wrote. "A man chancing to pass was struck by the unwonted silence; and pushing upon the door, he looked in. In the center lay the master, scalped and lifeless, with a Bible clasped in his hand; while around the room were strewn the bodies of his pupils, nine in number, miserably mangled, though one of them still retained a spark of life. It was afterwards known that the deed was committed by three or four [Lenape (Delaware)] warriors from a village near the Ohio; and it is but just to observe that, when they returned home, their conduct was disapproved by their tribe."

Typical of 19th-century historians, Parkman wasn't above weaving dubious and romantic details into his narratives (there is no real way to know if Brown was holding a Bible when he was scalped) but there is a primary source to support his assertion the war party was shamed upon returning to camp. Parkman refers to the "captivity journal" of John McCullough who, as a boy in 1756, was captured by the Lenape tribe and held as a slave.

"I saw the Indians when they returned home with the scalps," he wrote. "[S]ome of the old Indians were very much displeased at them for killing so many children, especially Neep-paugh'-whese, or Night Walker, an old chief, or half king--he ascribed it to cowardice, which was the greatest affront he could offer them."

McCullough's 10-year-old cousin Archie was the only survivor of the raid. Much of what we think we know about Archie comes from an 1876 story in a Maryland newspaper written by Rev. Irving L. Beman. Beman's account, allegedly based on the memories of 89-year-old Archie, is improbably detailed. Archie's classmates are sketched out (Eben Taylor, 15 and "awkward, to whom Mr. Brown's learning and books were a keen delight." George Dunstan dreams of soldiering. Ruth Hale and Ruth Hart are nicknamed "Haly and Harty," respectively, and Brown's Bible is there, thrust at the invaders like a singularly ineffective shield.)

Archie hides in the chimney and nearly escapes, but the Indians find him as they are about to leave and club and scalp him as well. He crawls out of the schoolhouse, downhill to a nearby spring, where he is discovered by a passer-by.

Archie survived, but the story goes his mind was never right (duh). Imagine a tonsured kid, scarred and jumpy in the New World. Beman has him recalling the story of the massacre when he was 89 (to whom, we don't know; Beman was born the same year). If you scour the records of several states, like Archie's descendant Rodney L. McCulloh did, you can turn up a few facts and a lot of speculation about Archie--see his 2016 book The Scalping of Archie McCullough: The True Story of the Sole Survivor of the Enoch Brown Massacre, whose trail he loses about 1810.

Americans are insulated from our past. Here 250 years ago is ancient, time enough to transform the Enoch Brown Massacre from headline to a quaint colonial horror like the Legend of Sleepy Hollow or the Lost Colony of Roanoke. If it matters at all to us, it might be as evidence of the persistence of our iniquity. Some might suggest Enoch Brown was derelict for having no musket ready to meet the threat.

Or maybe the point is there is nothing that can be done to prevent human beings from murdering their brothers and sisters. The Lenape did not have AR-15s, just wooden tomahawks. Andrew Kehoe--still the biggest murderer of schoolchildren--and Timothy McVeigh used bombs. Terrorists attacked with knives in China in 2015. The tools don't matter so much as the intent.

Take away our tools and we will kill each other with rocks or our bare hands. Because it is in our nature. Because someone looks at us funny, because we sense disrespect. Because we hate ourselves deeply and have no idea what to do about it. So we have done since Cain.

I could argue with you, but I don't want to. It's your country, too, your world, too. Some people think they could be Charles Bronson. Fine.

What you're right about is that there is something very American about killing and dying violently. There is something unhealthy in our culture, a death fetish that doesn't pertain to every gun owner (and that does pertain to a lot of people who don't own or handle real guns). You can buy gun porn at Kroger. You can watch it on your TV.

Maybe all that make-believe isn't the greatest thing for us. Maybe our minds are coarsened by all the violence we consume. I think we mostly find our way clear to believe what we want.

Our world is safer now than it ever has been, safer than it was when Enoch Brown was murdered; safer than it was 25 years ago. You might not believe that, but that's what the numbers say. All violent crime is down. We have fewer murderers.

The ones we have may have access to more efficient weapons. And in a less wishful and more grounded world there might be things we can do about that. But there are also people who use fear as a sales tool. Fear is crucial to their business model.

The only antidote to fear is courage. But if the Enoch Brown massacre is evidence of the persistence of our iniquity, it also gives us the example of Neep-paugh'-whese, who shamed the murderers as the cowards that they were. I don't take a lot of comfort in that, but it's something--maybe the least--we should do.


Philip Martin is a columnist and critic for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Email him at pmartin@arkansasonline.com and read his blog at blooddirtandangels.com.

Editorial on 03/06/2018

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