What to do about
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
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
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
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
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