Samuel Mohawk murdered the Wigton family 171 years ago in the Slippery Rock area, and the legendary story continues to fascinate local historians and residents.
"Something went wrong on one of his trips," Brad Pflugh said of how Mohawk ended up in the area, eventually killing the wife and five children of James Wigton.
Pflugh spoke to a crowd on Sept. 17 as a part of a special presentation during the monthly 3MJC meeting, which was held at Jennings Environmental Education Center, Brady Township.
Pflugh, also a board member of the Butler County Historical Society, head of the history department at Knoch High School, Butler County Community College professor and author of the book "Rage, Murder and Execution! The Story of Sam Mohawk and the Wigton Family Massacre," first shared how his love of history came to be.
"I always thought that history was neat, but I didn't know if I liked it," he said of how he wasn't sure about that field of study.
He has bachelor's and master's degrees in history from Slippery Rock University and credits Dr. David Dixon, a Slippery Rock University history professor who took him under his wing, with his success.
Dixon passed away in 2008 and at that time was curator of the Old Stone House, the Brady Township museum that is part of the Mohawk/Wigton story.
Pflugh, who dedicated his book to Dixon, speaks about the massacre on a regular basis and he's been researching it for many years, even debunking myths along the way.
He showed a sketch of Mohawk, a Seneca Indian who was born Dec. 25, 1807, on a reservation in Cattaraugus County, N.Y. The sketch is a story in itself since it's believed to have come from a picture of another Mohawk sketch that was taken at a Butler store in the 1960s.
The sketch last seen in the 1960s was reportedly derived from a piece of wood that had a drawing of Mohawk's face done by a prison guard after he was arrested for the murders.
"It's a little rough," Pflugh said of the sketch, adding Mohawk had been married twice - to Lydia Kipp and Sarah Silverheels - and it's not known if he had any children.
Native Americans like Mohawk would ride the Allegheny River on rafts, transporting logs, and stop in Butler, where they would take a stagecoach that passed through the area.
In late June 1843, Mohawk was spotted in Butler at least once, and he was known to have "problems with women," Pflugh said, adding he would make nasty comments and had been fighting with his wife when he left home. He also had a severe alcohol problem that led to violent outbursts.
Court documents detailing Mohawk's arrest show his path south at that time, starting in New York and ending up in Butler on June 29, when he was suffering serious alcohol withdrawal.
Earlier that day, 11-year-old Catherine Herrit-Protzman said she had been jumped by Mohawk while walking alone and he tried to pull his knife on her; she was able to escape unharmed.
Jacob Brinker, owner of the Willard House hotel and tavern, had heard about Mohawk and took him in to calm him down, with the help of his daughter, and it's reported they bled him out.
"He was just going crazy," Pflugh said.
On the morning of June 30, Brinker and William Beatty paid a stagecoach to take Mohawk away and it made stops in Prospect, Unionville, and at the Old Stone House, owned by John Brown and rented by John Sill, who ran it as a tavern and stagecoach stop at that time.
"The stagecoach took off and Sam Mohawk was not there," Pflugh said of how Mohawk stayed behind.
He had gone up the road to the home of Jesse and Margaret Kiester, an important family that had just turned part of their residence into a tavern known as the Kiester House; Mrs. Kiester was the only one home.
"She is very lucky she was not killed that day," Pflugh said.
She offered Mohawk some milk, which he drank. He then fell asleep in the tavern and left after waking, returning that evening to the Old Stone House, where he fought with Sill because he refused to serve him alcohol.
After the disturbance, Mohawk spent the night outside, sleeping not far from the Old Stone House, and on July 1, he headed in the direction of the nearby Wigton home, where Margaret, 29, was alone with her children: Elmira, 7; Jeninah Nancy, 6; Perry, 4; Amanda, 2; and John Wallace, about 8 months old.
James Wigton had left that morning because he needed another horse. Mrs. Wigton was cutting meat in an out-building and it's believed that Mohawk saw a light on, leading him to the property and some kind of argument.
"She put up a fight," Pflugh said of Mrs. Wigton, who managed to cut Mohawk on the head with her knife.
He hit her with a rock, thinking he killed her, and went into the home, but she followed him and attacked him again.
Mohawk then proceeded to kill Mrs. Wigton, her four daughters, and the infant boy with blows to their heads with rocks.
However, there were and still are some people who believe James Wigton murdered his family and framed the drunken Mohawk.
"And yet Mohawk admitted it," Pflugh said, adding that Mohawk also said he decided to kill the baby because if he lived, he would grow up to hate and kill Native Americans because one murdered his family.
As Wigton neared home that day, he was intercepted by Jesse Kiester, who by then discovered what became of the rest of the family; he urged Wigton to remain outside.
A crowd started to gather and the manhunt for Mohawk was on. Mills, mines and schools closed as news spread of what happened to the Wigton family.
Mohawk fled to the nearby Kennedy family farm, where he hit one of the young boys in the head with a rock.
"I have not been able to find out happened to him," Pflugh said.
He was off and running again and ended up at the Philip Kiester farm, where he went into the home and began rooting around, not knowing that an angry mob was forming outside; some stories claim up to 100 people had gathered.
Kiester knew Mohawk was in his upstairs bedroom because he heard him playing his fiddle, but thankfully Mohawk didn't find the loaded pistols he kept in a drawer.
Mrs. Wigton's brother, Charles McQuiston, was in the crowd and several men took turns trying to lure Mohawk out of the home, throwing rocks at each other until they managed to knock Mohawk unconscious and drag him down the stairs and outside.
James Wigton showed up then and some folks wanted to bury Mohawk immediately, but he was soon escorted in a wagon to the Butler jail; the men on the walk were paid to do so.
Pflugh then held up the heavy metal leg chains Mohawk wore while he was in prison.
"He had these on for nine months almost," he said, adding his high school students really get a kick out of seeing the chains up close.
Rumors of a jail breakout spread, and that same angry crowd gathered, including Wigton.
"They were going to storm the jail and kill him," Pflugh said, adding Wigton ended up talking them out of it.
The trial was held in December 1843 and Mohawk's attorney pleaded insanity, but he was indicted on six counts of murder. The governor agreed with the judge's ruling that he should be hung - Butler County's first hanging.
On March 22, 1844, Mohawk confessed to the murders and converted to Christianity, and was then hung in the jailyard with about 20 witnesses including Wigton; about 100 people stood on the other side of the jailyard wall, unable to see what was going on.
Mohawk was buried in an unknown spot near Butler Hospital, and it's unknown if he was buried in ceremonial clothing as requested by the Native Americans in his hometown, Pflugh said.
The Wigtons are buried at Muddy Creek Cemetery, Clay Township, and the grave is marked with a large marble stone bearing their names; it was donated by the Moniteau High School Class of 2003. Another marble stone at the cemetery entrance describes the story of the massacre.
Wigton married again and had several children with Eleanor Tanneyhill, whose sister was married to his brother John.
They moved to Oil City, where he worked in the coal mines and lost his home, and his job, the day before the final payment on the property was due. The Wigtons moved in with one of their children, and Wigton died in 1890 at the age of 79.
"Nothing ever worked out," Pflugh said.
For more information about the Butler County Historical Society or Pflugh's book, call 724-283-8116 or visit www.butlerhistory.com
Published Sept. 27, 2014, in Allied News. Pick up a copy at 201A Erie St., Grove City.