Worse Than A Horse Thief

"Found any horse thieves yet?" is a too frequent question addressed to genealogists. I haven't encountered a horse thief yet. I have found two representatives of a surname that I am searching, however, that make a horse thief look like a saint. Their action was so heinous that it drew national attention. It was attributed as the cause of "Lord Dunmore's War." And it was widely condemned by contemporary leaders, including George Rogers Clark, Ben Franklin, and Thomas Jefferson. In today's world, there would be a whole covey of special prosecutors appointed. In the late 1700s, a more tradition response was exercised.

Their names were Jacob and Daniel Greathouse. They were brothers, sons of Harmon Greathouse. Harmon Greathouse lived at Holliday's Cove, located on Harmon's Creek (today's Holliday's Cove, Hancock Co., W. Va.). They lived in the 1700s. They were frontiersmen, pushing westward, confronting Indians. As time passed, the Indians became less willing to accept the intrusion of European settlers. The frontier at the period was in the area of current day Kentucky, Ohio, West Virginia, and western Pennsylvania. The Ohio River was being explored. It was a highway for both the frontiersmen and the Indians. The Greathouse brothers left home and went their way together. They were to make history. The story varies a bit from source to source, but it goes something like this.

The events that were to put Jacob and Daniel Greathouse into history began in 1774. There was a Mingo Indian Chief known as Talgayeeta or Chief Logan. Logan was well educated, spoke English, and had a wide reputation as being a friend to the "white man." Logan provided food and shelter to those in need. He urged other Indians toward moderation and accommodation, rather that war with the settlers. It seems that Jacob and Daniel Greathouse, with a party of approximately 30 men contrived an ambush to kill a small group of friendly Indians. These Indians happened to be Chief Logan's family. Initial reports of the events incorrectly blamed the murders on Michael Cresap. Cresap was in the area and had been with the Greathouses prior to the ambush. Although Cresap may have been responsible for other activities, he was not directly involved in this crime.

At the mouth of Yellow Creek on May 24, 1774, across from Baker's Bottom, about two miles downstream from the current town of Wellesville, Ohio, a series of events unfolded. The Greathouse brothers and party contrived to get Logan's relatives drunk and to discharge their weapons during a shooting contest. When their weapons were discharged, the Greathouse party uncovered other loaded weapons and killed all of Logan's family except for his pregnant sister. They tied her to a tree and subjected her to gruesome torture.

Allan Eckert, an historical novelist reported in1992 that Jacob Greathouse and his men killed Shikellimus, Logan's father, and shot and stripped the pregnant sister of Logan and hung her by her wrists. While still living they cut open her belly and left her to die with the unborn infant dangling from her abdomen. It is also reported that one of the "whites" who later came across the scene was George Rogers Clark (Eckhert, 1995).

Chief Logan responded accordingly and an Indian War resulted. The War was generally referred to as "Dunmore's War" or "Lord Dunmore's War"­­ named after the Governor of Virginia at that time. The war lasted through the summer and fall of 1774 until the battle at Point-Pleasant and peace was made. At this point, Chief Logan wrote a speech which was to carve out his spot in history. The Logan speech was reproduced in Thomas Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia, first published in 1788:

"I appeal to any white man to say if ever he entered Logan's cabin hungry, and he gave him not meat: if ever he came cold and naked, and he clothed him not. During the course of the last long and bloody war Logan remained idled in his cabin, an advocate for peace. Such was my love for the whites, that my countrymen pointed as they passed, and said, 'Logan is the friend of white men.' I had even thought to have lived with you but for the injuries on one man. Colonel Cresap, the last spring, in cold blood, and unprovoked, murdered all the relations of Logan, not even sparing my women and children. There runs not a drop of my blood in the veins of any living creature. This called on me for revenge. I have sought it: I have killed many: I have fully glutted my vengeance: for my country I rejoice at the beams of peace. But do not harbour a thought that mine is the joy of fear. Logan never felt fear. He will not turn on his heel to save his life. Who is there to mourn for Logan?­­ Not one."

This speech was published in several American newspapers in early 1775 and was reproduced in Washington Irving's Sketch Book. It was also printed in the now well-known and "collectable" McGuffey Readers. Logan's speech became a recitation exercise in schools throughout America, continuing the unjust blame on Michael Cresap.

This misplaced blame on Captain Michael Cresap (incorrectly called Colonel in the speech), even though it was reflected in Logan's own speech, became a political issue while Jefferson was Vice President of the United States. Luther Martin, described as a "militant Federalist" married a daughter of Michael Cresap. He saw the opportunity to both clear the Cresap name and to embarrass Vice President Jefferson. Beginning in June of 1797, Luther Martin wrote abusive letters to Thomas Jefferson by having them published in the newspaper. The gist of the letters was that Jefferson contrived to blame Cresap in his Notes on the State of Virginia. Although Jefferson did not reply to these letters, he apparently did investigate the situation and published the "Appendix" to his book in 1800. In the appendix Jefferson reports that Cresap participated in one or more murders at about the same time but the killing of Logan's family at Yellow Creek had been conducted by members of the Greathouse family.

The atrocity committed against Logan's family left its mark in the Indian culture as well. According to a declaration by John Heckewelder, a Moravian missionary among the Indians: "The name of Greathouse was mentioned as having been accomplice to Cresap. So detestable became the latter name among the Indians, that I have frequently heard them apply it to the worst of things; also in quieting or stilling their children, I have hear them say, Huh! Cresap will fetch you; whereas otherwise, they name the Owl."

Perhaps this is the source of Eckert's (1995) story. He writes that Shawnee mothers who used to quiet children by using an old tale that owls would carry off noisy children, evoked a new warning for their children: "Hush now, or Cresap and Greathouse will come to get you..."

Jacob Greathouse and his family ultimately paid for his crime against Logan's family. In March and April, 1791, Jacob Greathouse, his wife, his 12 children and two other young men were traveling on the Ohio River. The Shawnees captured the Greathouse party. The Shawnees killed the Greathouse children and tortured to death both Jacob and his wife. According to Eckert (1967), they had been beatened, stripped, and their abdomens cut opened. One end of their intestines had been tied to saplings. They were then driven to walk around, or dragged around the trees so that the intestines were pulled from their bodies. They were scalped and burning coals stuffed into their body cavities. A similar description is related by the historical novelist, James Thom.

Jacob's brother, Daniel Greathouse, fared better A year after the murders, he died of measles on October 26, 1775 in a cabin on Harmon's Creek.

So who were Daniel and Jacob Greathouse? I don't know for sure. Records from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints show a Harmon Greathouse, born 1720 in Lancaster, Penn. with a wife named Mary Stull, was born in 1720. Land records show they lived along Harmon Creek. They had a son named Daniel Greathouse, born 1750. Daniel reportedly died in 1775, consistent with the above information. The records show a number of siblings for Daniel, but no Jacob Greathouse. However, the records do show a Jacob Greathouse, born 1724, as being a brother to Harmon Greathouse. This Jacob would be an uncle, not a brother to Daniel. He would have been too old to be traveling with his wife and 12 children in 1791, however. Eckert (1995, page 87) reports that Harmon's wife was named Mary, consistent with Mary Stull. Thus, it is possible that I either have the wrong Greathouse family, or that there was another son of Harmon and Mary Stull, named for his uncle, but that is not shown in the computer files.

Having a horse thief as an ancestor isn't so bad. In genealogy, all things are relative.

References and Additional Reading:

Allan Eckert, 1995. "That Dark and Bloody River". Bantam Books.

Allan Eckert. 1992. "A Sorrow in Our Heart." Konecky & Konecky. New York

Allan Eckert, 1967. "The Frontiersmen." Bantam Books

Thomas Jefferson, 1788 "Notes on the State of Virginia", William Peden, editor (1954), Norton and Co. publisher (this document also includes Jefferson's "Appendix" published in 1800)

James Thom. 1984. "From Sea to Shining Sea." Ballantine Books.

Reuben Thwaits & Louise Kellogg (eds.). 1974. "Documentary History of Dunmore's War, 1774", page 17. C. J. Carrier Co., Harrisonburg, VA


August 20, 1996

This article posted to Zephyr online December 1, 1997
Back to the Zephyr home
page.Send us e