And there was Simon Girty, the renegade, who saw white men burned at the stake and whooped with the Indians to see them burn. His eyes were green, like a catamount’s, and the stains on his hunting shirt did not come from the blood of the deer.
Stephen Vincent Benet, The Devil and Daniel Webster
In his short story The Devil and Daniel Webster, Benet has Satan conjure up the damned souls of 12 villains from American history to serve as a jury in the case of Satan v. Jabez Stone. Only seven of these entities are named. This is beginning of a series to give short biographies on each of these figures.
Born in 1741 on the Pennsylvania frontier, Girty’s life took a sharp turn when he and his brothers were captured by the Seneca and adopted by them. It would be seven years before Girty was able to return to his family. By that time Girty was a Seneca in all but skin color. At the outset of the American Revolution Girty supported the patriots, but eventually became a loyalist. Frontier patriots regarded him as a turncoat and renegade.
On January 1, 1779 Girty and fellow loyalist Alexander McKee led a large group of Indians in an ambush of a group of patriots returning from a trip to New Orleans near present Dayton, Kentucky. Few of the patriots survived the ambush and the subsequent massacre.
On June 11, 1782 he was present at the horrific torture and burning at the stake of Continental Colonel William Crawford. This was done by Konieschquanoheel, aka Captain Pipe, a leader of the Wolf Clan of the Lenape in retaliation for the massacre of Christian indians by Pennsylvania militia the year before. We have two witnesses who were present. One says that Girty was an instigator of the murder of Crawford and the other says that Girty pleaded for the life of Crawford until he was threatened with death himself. Girty is credited with saving the lives of other American prisoners of the Indians on other occasions, sometimes by buying them from the Indians.
After the War Girty settled in Canada. Rumor credited him with participating in the War of the 1812 on the side of the British and dying with the great Indian leader Tecumseh at the battle of the Thames in 1813. The elderly Girty, plagued with arthritis and failing eyesight, took no part in the conflict and died peacefully in 1818.