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What to do about
Tom Quick

By DAVID HULSE

MILFORD, PA — Was he history or legend? A cunning hunter taking vengeance for his murdered father, a storyteller whose fanciful tales became legend, or a sociopath serial killer?

Tom Quick (1734-1795) has been an official legend around Milford since 1889, when the town erected the Settlers Monument and transferred his remains there from a grave  in Matamoras where he had been buried.

Quick was said to have been the first white child born in Milford, but his fame or infamy came from the stories he told about the Indians that he had killed. Accounts vary in the number; anywhere from six to close to 100 Indians were said to have died by Quick’s hand.

“He was seen as a hero at the end of the 19th century,” Pike County Historian George J.Fluhr said. “You have to remember that in those days, there were people here with relatives who were still fighting Indians.”

But the passage of time brought changing standards about heroes. Some people became adamantly opposed to the idea of their town’s memorializing someone whose claim to fame was killing people on a whim. Quick and Milford became the subject of ridicule. Noel Paul Stookey of Peter, Paul and Mary recorded “Tom Quick” in 1978 with lyric in part saying:

“In the town of Milford, Pennsylvania / There stands a sorry sign / ‘Helps passing strangers understand / Pike County’s frame of mind / “Tom Quick” it says, / “ the Indian slayer of legendary fame lived in this region”

In 1997, the Quick’s zinc monument on Sarah Street was vandalized with a sledgehammer and severely damaged. Borough officials had it repaired but feared to reinstall it because their insurance carrier would not pay for repairs again.

In 1999, the Native American Historical Truth Association (NAHTA) sponsored a 1st Amendment Event in Milford, rallying to stop the display of the repaired monument.

Since then, people have been debating whether the monument should ever see the light of day again.

Robert Veneziale is vice-chairman of the Tri-State Unity Coalition, a group whose mission in part is to promote human rights, create a barrier to hate and promote community harmony. He sees the monument question as divisive for Milford. “It’s been an unresolved issue. Milford’s hiding the monument isn’t a resolution,” he said.

Rather than framing solutions themselves, the group is facilitating discussion about it. “We’re trying to give a pathway to resolution,” he said.

“The demographics show we’re growing so quick. People who chose to live here should feel welcome. We’re among the 89 fastest growing counties. Grow that fast and you’re going to get conflicts.”

Iris Stringer, an American Indian, says the community used to ignore the idea that killing Indians was offensive to anyone.

“It was even advertised in the phone book at the time. Four years ago, the Chamber of Commerce had a handout for children, like it was a game.”

Stringer would rather not see the monument put back, but if it is replaced, “let’s remember him for something else, lets put up a monument to him as first baby born here, or just take off the Indian slayer language.”

“Personally, a monument to someone who is a mass murderer in eyes of American Indians is something we want to think twice about. But the other side of it [is] its history; you can’t change history,” Veneziale said.

But how much is history and how much is legend?

According to the legend, Quick killed to avenge the unprovoked murder and decapitation of his father by a party of Indians. The elder Quick was reputedly a friend to the Indians of the area and had welcomed them into his home.

The legend part bothers Fluhr who says there was no contemporary historical account of Quick’s activities.

The stories were retold for half a century before 1851, when they were published anonymously in Monticello in the pulp style of the day as “The Life and Adventures of Tom Quick, Indian Slayer.”

One of the more popular legends, one used by Indian protesters, is readily debunked by Quick’s interment at the Milford monument. Legend had it that Quick died of smallpox, and his body was found by Indians who chopped it up, sent pieces to other villages and started an epidemic. Protesters claimed Quick was the first perpetrator of biological warfare.

“He died in bed in Matamoras, and there were no Indian villages left here in 1795,” Fluhr said.

Fluhr, who has also written about Quick, sees him as a sick man, permanently scarred by the sight of his father’s violent death; an itinerant hunter, who avoided human contact for the most part and probably would have been institutionalized in modern society. Fluhr quotes an account from Quick’s mother who said, “The murder of his father turned his head and now he’s not responsible for anything he says or does.”

Which raised the question, how many of those dead Indians were simply in the warped mind of the storyteller? Whatever the causes, Fluhr’s feeling about Quick is, “He was psychotic.”

That said, he concludes, “But the memorial is still a grave. You have to do something with it.”

Veneziale said he has seen positive directions coming from the public discussion. The Tri-State Unity Coalition will release a position paper about the issue in July.

For more on the monument controversy, visit their website at tristateunity.veneziale.net.



 
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