Native Americans Absorbed Captives as Full Tribe Members Fort Pitt Exhibit Shows Another Side of History

By Hamill, Sean D | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), March 27, 2016 | Go to article overview

Native Americans Absorbed Captives as Full Tribe Members Fort Pitt Exhibit Shows Another Side of History


Hamill, Sean D, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


Jeremy Turner long has known that the history of his mother's side of the family was more interesting than most.

His ancestor, Abraham Kuhn, was captured as a boy by the Wyandot tribe while he was growing up in the late 1750s in eastern Pennsylvania.

But over the past 20 years, working with friends with a passion for the history of Native American culture generally, and the role capturing people from other groups played specifically, Mr. Turner has learned much more about his great-times-eight grandfather's life and the act that led to it becoming an important part of American and Native American history.

Like many others, he was captured and absorbed into the tribe. But Kuhn also ended up becoming a tribal leader, a rarity for captured members of a tribe. He would go on to play a significant role in his tribe, signing two peace treaties with colonists, treaties Kuhn believed prevented his tribe's slaughter.

Kuhn, who died in 1808 of smallpox, "is a person I wish I could meet and shake his hand," Mr. Turner, 38, told a packed audience of about 100 people Saturday morning in the lecture hall at Fort Pitt Museum.

Mr. Turner, an Indianapolis firefighter who wears his hair in a mostly shaved "scalp lock" style native to the Wyandots, gave an hour-long presentation on the tribal practice of capturing and adopting not only European settlers, but members of other tribes. It was the first of a three-part program put on by the museum Saturday as an extension to the ongoing "Captured by Indians" exhibit that remains on display there until May 22.

The 3,000-square-foot exhibit may be the first of its kind that brings together not only the history and analysis of the practice, and examples of "captivity narratives" from those who were taken, but more than two dozen specific artifacts linked directly to the events.

Many of the exhibits were borrowed from other museums and collections for the first time, including: a famous "war club" intentionally left behind by Mingo tribe war leader John Logan after one raid to capture people; the original list of the roughly 200 captured settlers who were returned by tribes to Fort Duquesne at the end of the French & Indian War; and a Ligonier cabin door that has a hole near the keyhole through which the father of a settler family said he shot out to thwart a war tribe trying to capture his loved ones. …

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