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Monday, June 25, 2018

Simon Girty - An Old Account

Malden, , Essex County, Ontario

Occasionally, someone will query as to whether they are related to Simon Girty or not.  Numerous family trees exist online following his five children and their descendents; whether correct or not is always the question.  

Most known in these parts is the existence of "Girty's Island," a piece of land in the Maumee River, a part of Flatrock Township, Henry County.  The writings about Simon Girty and this island are so, so numerous, but this account, published in the April, 1938, quarterly edition of The Historical Society of Northwestern Ohio, was especially entertaining.

Girty's Island

The four Girty brothers, forerunners to the James brothers, the Younger brothers and the other desperadoes of the west, terrorized the entire northwestern country in the period between the revolution and the war of 1812.

From the west side River road (424), near Napoleon, the long island in the Maumee where they had the headquarters for their sallies against the white settlers can be seen.  On this island George Girty lived with his Delaware Indian squaw and it was there she bore him five or six children.

Blue Jacket, famous chief, had his own village nearby on the Maumee while further downstream were the trading posts of Alexander McKee and Matthew Elliott, who like the Girty brothers, were 'renegade' Americans.

The Girtys were George, James, Thomas and Simon.  It is Simon Girty who has occupied the spotlight of the paleface historians and for two generations his whispered name was enough to send a chill up the spines of the pioneers and their families.

Simon Girty
 Girty was painted blackest by Theodore Roosevelt in his Winning of the West, but this portrait of him, though it carried out the white men's tradition, was as inaccurate as much of Roosevelt's observations concerning this part of the country at the time.

Later research has disclosed a Simon Girty given over both to the cruelties and the kindnesses of the forest life, more able and therefore more to be dreaded than his contemporaries, but a man in whom patient search is bound to reveal at least a few virtues to set off against his violent years.

From Fort Pitt at the head of the Ohio, the Girtys, McKee and Elliott had fled when it became apparent that the revolution was to be a success and that men loyal to King George were not likely to be popular in Pennsylvania.  Every act they committed, whether it was to stand by while white men were sacrificed in an Indian execution at the stake, to lead a party of Indians, tomahawks in hand, against a frail white settlement or to set afire the log cabins and the cornfields of the pioneers, were inspired by the same partisanship as existed on the other side.

To the whites who had come swarming across the Alleghenies,the only good Indian was a dead Indian.  They looked upon the loyal British partisans as nothing less than friends, simply because they happened to be allied with their enemies.

From the standpoint of justice, neither the redcoats nor the deerskin pioneers gave a hang about the Indians.  Both were out to get from them what they could, the British by plying them with rum and blankets and the Yankees by pouring into them not unequal quantities of white moonshine and lead. 

The wars that waged constantly about the Maumee valley from 1778 - 1795 were never instigated by the red men.  On the one hand, pioneers hungry for land pushed their way north of the Ohio to the lake country.  On the other, British military commanders, using men like the Girty brothers for their agents, stirred up the Indians on every pretext to make raids.  At one important conclave of the Indians, no white man save Simon Girty was admitted.

It is from a boy captive, Oliver Spencer, that we get the most authentic, if not the most flattering picture of Simon Girty.  It should be borne in mind that Spencer, his mind filled with terror and hatred of the Indians, was no impartial observer.  In fairness also it should be recalled that more than once Simon Girty saved the lives of 'enemy' whites, such as Simon Kenton, when the Indians were ready to torture and do away with them.  The boy Spencer describes him:

'Simon Girty...his dark shaggy hair, his low forehead, his brows contracted, and meeting above his short, flat nose; his gray sunken eyes averting his ingenuous gaze; his lips thin and compressed, and the dark and sinister expression of his countenance, to me, seemed the very picture of the villain.

He wore the Indian costume, but without any ornament; and his silk handkerchief while it supplied the place of a hat, hid an unsightly wound in his forehead.  On each side in his belt, were stuck silver-mounted pistols, and at his left hung a short, broad dirk, serving occasionally the uses of a knife.'

Not a pleasant parlor companion, certainly.  Yet whether villain or romantic figure, Girty with hs brothers has left his name on the Ohio landscape, a memorial to the deep impression of terror he inspired in his own generation."

In 1951, the Crescent-News reported that a descendant of Simon Girty was in town, Mr. Warren Bruner.  Simon Girty, he said was his great-great grandfather through a marriage between his grandfather, a Bruner, and the granddaughter of Simon Girty.  For a full account, check out the article in the library - the Crescent-News of January 29, 1951.  Bruner did mention that Simon's brother, Thomas, had a trading post on the west bank of the Auglaize above the Fort grounds.

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