Wednesday, September 03, 2008

Jesse Gray: Pioneer of Jay, Part I

Jesse Gray was one of the most famous residents of the Pennville area, mostly due to his reputation as an “Indian fighter.” In reality, he was a friend of the local Indian population and rivaled them in all the pioneer skills, such as hunting, trapping, farming and shooting.

Born the ninth of September 1789 in Newberry, South Carolina, Jesse was the son of John Gray and an Irish immigrant mother. Perhaps the defining moment of his life happened when Gray was around 20. The family, then consisting of Jesse, his step-father, mother, two younger brothers, and two or three step-brothers and sisters, including a step-sister 6 months old, were living in Wayne County, near the present town of Fountain City. The area was rich in sugar groves, and both the pioneers and native people made sugar, which was then transported down the Mississinewa River to trade for ammunition, salt, muslin, blankets, and other useful supplies. One day during the sugar making season, Jesse was sent to a neighbor several miles away to borrow an extra kettle and to perhaps kill some game for food. Upon returning the next morning, Gray found his entire family slaughtered and the camp burned. After time spent investigating who was responsible, Gray found that Fleming, an Indian known to be an alcoholic and constant trouble maker, although not directly involved, had plotted the attack, which was carried out by a roving band of six Miami Indians from on the Wabash River near present-day Marion. During the next ten years, each one of the Indians responsible were found dead, and in 1824 Jesse Gray stalked Fleming to a farmhouse where he shot him in cold blood. Both Gray and a mulatto named Smith were indicted for the crime in 1825 , so he left the state and resided near Hill Grove, Ohio. No attempts were made to find and prosecute Gray as Fleming was greatly disliked and a bane to everyone in the area.


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