- Education and Science
True Story of Murder on a Native American Reservation, 1897
First-Person Account of Murder on the Reservation
This is a non-fiction account my grandmother wrote many years ago, recounting a double murder that occurred during her time spent living on Indian Reservation in Shawnee County, Kansas.
In her writing, she says she was about 11 years old when the murders happened, so this all occurred in about 1897. Sometimes it is hard to follow, and I think that is because it was still upsetting to talk about, even decades later. Understandable when you think about an 11-year-old girl seeing someone she knew writhing on the floor in pain from blunt force trauma to the head.
In her own words:"..my father rented a large tract of land from this Indian, Frank Kabamse, who was French and Indian. Mother was reluctant to move to the reservation, but finally consented to move, as it would be too far to drive down there to farm - farming was all done then with horses. We were a mile in from the west line of the reserve on the northwest corner."
Terrible News Received
The sun was low in the west one evening in early October, 1897, when Frank, our neighbor, appeared at the door of our home and told father to come with him quickly, that his mother-in-law Quammie, and her granddaughter, Megosh, had been murdered. Cold chills crept over us as we wondered who could have taken the lives of these two quiet Indian women.
About an hour later mother consented to let my older sister, Nellie, then about 16, and me, about I I years of age, go over to their home. As Father was there, we were not afraid. Quammie and Megosh lived alone at the edge of the woods on the opposite side of Big Soldier Creek from our place which was about a half mile away.
Almost breathlessly we hurried and we were horror stricken when we saw Megosh, a girl of about 19, on the floor with a large semicircle of blood under her head. She was still alive, but her skull was fractured and her head swollen to twice the natural size - once about every minute she gave a shrill scream; the semicircle of blood on the floor was caused by her working herself back and forth on the floor.
A number of Indians and a few white people had gathered by this time and the Indian Agent, who was stationed at the Mission, had been sent for, also the sheriff and coroner from Holton, Kansas, which was the County seat located about 15 miles to the northeast.
The Mission was 9 miles south of where the crime was committed and the agency or government agent for the tribe was then located there, but was later moved to near Mayena. We rushed to where another group was gathered near the small frame barn and there on the ground was Quammie with a large hole through her head. The murderer had placed the shotgun to her ear and fired. Standing close beside the body was
Frank's wife, Mary Kabamse. She said, "See poor mama dead." Soon the officers, Tom Holton and the doctor from the Mission arrived and Megosh died without regaining consciousness.
A coroner's inquest was held and the verdict was that the two were murdered. Now Megosh had been married but had trouble with her husband and he was at once under suspicion. A warrant was sworn out for Spears, who was a tall dark Indian, a graduate of Haskell at Lawrence, Kansas. He spoke English as well as anyone and it was said that Dennis Spears was not Pottawatomie Indian, but of another tribe.
Kansas Native American History Books
It was learned that he had borrowed a shotgun from another Indian, James Clair, who lived about two miles north, telling Jim that he wanted to shoot some squirrels. This was about two o'clock in the afternoon - Quammie had gone to the barn to feed her horse and was shot by Spears, who also went by the name of Dennis Jackson. Spears was arrested in St. Joseph, Mo. Following the shooting he had driven to Holton and sold his team, buggy, and harness for $75 and boarded the train for "St. Joe". When he stepped on the train, he was arrested and when questioned, he confessed. He said he went to Quammie's home and found her near the barn where he shot her; then upon going to the house he found Megosh asleep on the scaffold, which was about 3 feet high and was built in one comer of the room for a bed. Quarnmie's house was two rooms. one a log room and the other a frame room and there was a few feet distance between the rooms.
The murderer struck Megosh on the head wilh a hammer. He said he blamed the grandmother for the trouble he had with his wife and that Quammie didn't want to live alone. She was about 60 years of age. Spears was sentenced to 50 years imprisonment in the Leavenworth, Kan. Penitentiary. But I think he really served only about 2 years for I read in a Kansas City paper an account of a fire at the prison and Spears had done such heroic fire fighting that he was recommended for a pardon.
Megosh's romance was remembered by the neighbors. Spears plowed a field for Quammie and planted her com. The girl made her home with the grandmother and Megosh would follow Spears from one end of the field to the other and when he stopped to let the horses rest, they would talk.
They were soon married, but after a few months she left him and came back to live with Quammie. She and Quammie used to come to our home to buy a chicken to eat or maybe a dozen eggs, turnips or even chewing tobacco, which they called Symaw, (sounding the y as long I). They always left immediately after making their purchase. As they could not speak English, they would point at a chicken or whatever they wanted.
The next day after the murder, Indians came from all parts of the reservation and brought cook stoves and food and set the stoves up in the yard and the Indian women did the cooking for the large crowd of Indians who remained there until after the funeral.
"Hollow Tree Her Resting Place"
Mr. and Mrs.Kabamse (Quammie's son-in-law and daughter) were members of the Catholic Church at Holy Cross, St. Mary's, Kansas, but I think Quammie and Megosh clung to the old Indian beliefs and traditions.
The Indians made a coffin out of lumber for Megosh, but for Quammie they took a great hollow log and sawed it the right length and split it, placing her body in half of the log and using the other half for the lid. They buried them in the Indian cemetery.
When one of the Holton papers came out, these headlines were used, "Hollow Tree Her Resting Place" and the erroneous article went on to say how the Indians took Quammie to the top of a tree and let the body slide into the hollow of the tree and sang a solemn song as the body dropped out of sight.
Now the Indians made the coffin from the log and had to do a lot of chiseling to get the hollow large enough, for Quammie was rather a large woman. We always had a warm spot in our hearts for Quammie and we were very sad when we heard she had been so cruelly murdered.
- Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation
After 1846 the tribe moved to present-day Kansas, a new region which was once called the "Great American Desert." Although the area lacked the beauty of the Great Lakes, the circumstances of removal left the tribal people little choice. It amounted t
- First Person Account of Life on a Native American Reservation, 1897
Part 2 of this story tells more about life on the farm/reservation during that time.
For those who want to look a little deeper...
- Mission Creek - Got its name because of the old Kaw mission on the banks of this creek.
- Soldier Creek - Used to be Soldier's Creek, because the creek's banks were a favorite camping ground for soldiers passing from Fort Leavenworth to Fort Riley.