June 13, 2024

A Tainted Trophy And The Framing Of White Supremacy In America, Part 1 (Tink Tinker)

The following is the first of a three-part series. The entire article appears in the fall 2022 issue of The New Polis Journal.

“…a great many of the inhabitants of the fronteers (sic) consider the murdering of the Indians in the highest degree meritorious.”[1] –indiana governor william henry harrison (1801)

The ghastly trophy of a book of christian history bound in the flayed and tanned skin of a Lenape man murdered in 1779 became a prized gift, a colonialist icon of triumph, which the rev. rezin monroe barns (r.m. barns), a colorado methodist minister, gave to the new methodist episcopal school of theology in 1893. Iliff school of theology was the brand-new methodist religion department of the university of denver in 1892. The next year, iliff received this notorious gift, a gift for the iliff library. It was a ghastly trophy of a book of christian history bound in the flayed and tanned skin of a Lenape man murdered in 1779, which rev. barns (RM) intended as a special gift of a family heirloom, given to help support the new methodist episcopal school of theology.

A previous article traces some of the history of this book under iliff’s custodianship and their eventual, if very reluctant, surrender of the book’s human-remains cover. But we have yet to explore the events, the motivations, the social imaginary of barns’ possession of the book and his ultimate gifting to iliff, or the earlier transmission of the book. Who is this prominent frontier preacher? How did he come into possession of the book and its cover? How much did he really know about the book’s wicked history? And why would he have thought such a gruesome artifact of murder and human desecration to be an appropriate gift for a christian school whose mission was training christian ministers?

In this latter regard, there is, of course, the collateral question regarding the motives of former governor and foremost methodist layman john evans, chair of the board of trustees in 1893 in receiving the gift, not to mention other trustees such as bishop warren and his wife elizabeth iliff warren, both university trustees and co-founders of iliff school of theology. What were these christian people thinking that they completely failed to see the repugnant nature of the gift? What was the dominant social imaginary that allowed them to so easily see this shameful and macabre book with its attached human remains as such a treasured trophy of christian triumph?

As I reported in an earlier article, a eurochristian squatter farmer named david morgan had murdered two Lenape men over a century before RM made his gift to iliff. It was other squatters at prickett’s fort (a civilian eurochristian fort) who then relieved the victims of their skin, flaying and then tanning their skin to make mementos of the event: shot pouches and the like, along with the cover of the egregious book.[2] It would be good to remember that morgan’s murder of these two Lenape men did more than alleviate whatever perceived threat morgan and his squatter group felt in the immediate moment—whatever the reality might have actually been. His homicidal act—consistent with so many similar acts by other Indian murderers—helped to open a new portal of conquest. But morgan’s act went a step further.

The skinning of the Lenape men and the enduring legacy of the book covered in that man’s skin ensured the continued domination and fetishizing of Native Peoples through centuries. I taught at iliff for more than thirty years, and I can attest that many American Indians who knew about the book would refuse to step inside the school because of its presence in the building—even without its cover.[3] They well knew what it signaled to the broader world around us about American Indians, about us. A simple artifact sitting exposed in a glass case, it singlehandedly vindicated (and rationalized) the whole of the christian conquest of Native Peoples and Native Land. While one might use the more inclusive word eurochristian in regard to conquest and domination,[4] the context of this sentence demands the use of the narrower adjective christian conquest. This display was in a christian (methodist) graduate school dedicated to training chrisitan ministers to serve christian churches built on (and now dominating) Indian Land.

Although david morgan was not a “professional” Indian-killer (unlike his nephew levi fifteen miles downstream, who counted in excess of one hundred “kills”), david’s act of coldblooded murder certainly mimics the serial murders perpetrated by those professionals. And we know that these professionals were highly regarded by the eurochristian squatter farmers and by those fast filling the brand-new towns and cities of the ohio valley after the eurochristians vanquished the Natives and destroyed the Indian towns. Indeed, as harrison’s report cited in the epigraph above implies, they considered morgan’s murder of these two Lenape men as highly meritorious, a judgement that continues to this day. As part of this process of fractal Genocide[5], the professional Indian-killers did a huge service for the other frontier squatters; their serial murders of Natives helped make the squatter’s life more secure and opened the Land, Indian Land, to eurochristian westward expansion, occupation, and domination. The conquest by eurochristian civilization would have undoubtedly taken much longer without their homicidal dedication. 

So, these Indian-killers also functioned as enablers, enabling eurochristian squatter ambitions. Together, the Indian-killers and the eurochristian squatters teamed up to shape a romantic narrative of eurochristian bravery against Indian savagery—even though the reverse, that of eurochristian savagery, can be regularly demonstrated throughout the historical period of conquest and domination.[6] So, the resulting historical narrative became just as enabling, facilitating the widespread quasi-official lie about American Indian Peoples generally and about eurochristian conquest and domination.

All this is to demonstrate that RM would have grown up immersed in the american narrative of triumph along with its persistent framing of American Indians as evil and deserving of genocidal killing and dispossession. These two Lenape murder victims, whose People had been pushed out of their new york and new jersey homeLands by the eurochristian invasion, were framed as having no right to be walking across their new, western homeLands because eurochristians were now beginning to claim that Land as well. That would be the narrative RM inherited.

While david morgan may not have been a persistent “professional” Indian-killer,[7] his ruthless murder of these two Lenape men continues to be celebrated both in civil monuments and by morgan family gatherings in west virginia to this day.[8] In 1889 a large obelisk was erected in honor of david, commemorating his murders and purportedly built on precisely the spot of his murders.[9] In 1910 an obelisk was erected in rivesville in honor of david’s daughter sarah morgan.[10] Just north in monongahela county there is a highway historical marker that also commemorates the mythic narrative of sarah morgan’s invented participation in her father’s actions, used to justify his murders of the two Lenape men.[11] In 1979 the west virginia division of highways built the “david morgan memorial bridge” crossing the monongahela river at third street in fairmont and included a historical marker on the fairmont side of the river.[12]

Family reunions in fairmont and morgantown, w.v., of the larger morgan family, continue to revel in the mythic patriotic history of their family’s progenitors and particularly of david morgan.[13] Over 500 morgans, for instance, descended on fairmont and prickett’s fort for the 100th morgan family reunion in 2007, complete with side trips out to visit the local david morgan monuments and memorials. Moreover, I was told that RM’s descendants continued to make periodic pilgrimages to the iliff library to view this ghoulish artifact with awe and reverence into the early 1970s. It is this long celebration of murder that provides the context for understanding how a methodist minister might have so highly treasured his ownership of such a ghastly trophy.

In this light, iliff’s indiscretion in receiving such a sadistic gift and in displaying it publicly for eighty-one years is not iliff’s sin alone. To the contrary, the visual imagery of this display along with the romance narrative of christian conquest is deeply woven into the fabric of american society. The glorification of the Indian-killer becomes a part of the Master Narrative of american exceptionalism. If the church, as the “body of christ,” is divine, quasi-divine, or divine and human (to play on the motifs of historical eurochristian theology), and thus knows no sin, it is a small leap for the “christian nation,” the eurochristian state, to achieve similar high status in the minds of its populace. Of course, Iliff displayed the human remains of its christian trophy.

What could have been more natural in the social and political context of the White supremacy that ensued from the eurochristian conquest of Native Peoples? The iliff display normalized the objectified dehumanization of Native Peoples by elevating the result of murder to the status of the fetish. Indians of the past were fetishized as merely part of the wilderness that eurochristians had to overcome in subduing the continent to their own economic interests, like the slaughter of the buffalo and the clearing of trees. And their religion was always part of the rationalization. So, the book and its cover became paradoxically the stuff of every day “so-what?” reality. “Oh, look! Isn’t this interesting?” “How neat!” Even as it was perversely and paradoxically elevated in the denver press as “a priceless vestment for the teachings of brotherly love!”[14]

RM was a nineteenth century all-american man. By that I mean to say he was fully a man of his own time and place even as he was a man with particular gifts and abilities. As we unpack this story, it is important to remember that this all-american man was born in and grew up in the immediate post-war ohio valley—born in wooster in 1830, but moving shortly thereafter to georgetown, his mother’s hometown, close to the ohio river, only some twenty miles upstream from cincinnati. The story of this book of christian history bound in the tanned skin of a murdered Lenape man is nestled in the larger history of two decades of brutal warfare in the ohio valley and upper ohio valleys of the allegheny and monongahela rivers.

It is part of the story of the christian/eurochristian invasion and displacement of Native Peoples of that Land. For more than two decades, as eurochristian squatters pressed their movement further and further west across the alleghenies, george washington had fueled an all-out war of destruction against Indian towns of western new york, western pennsylvania, and the ohio valley. It was a second front in washington’s war against the british, what barbara mann (Onondawaga / Seneca) calls “washington’s war against Native america.”[15] While the early assault involved local militias, fighting under protocols established by the revolutionary government in philadelphia (think here of “well-regulated militia”), washington also sent one military leader after another to engage in this war of destruction. I suppose, too, that we need to remember that washington and his family had huge (illegal) speculative investments in Indian Land in the ohio valley even before the war began.[16] One of those military leaders was washington’s Land agent in pittsburgh, col. william crawford.[17]

RM’s birth came only 35 years after the treaty of greenville and sixteen years after Tecumseh’s death marked a conclusion of the overwhelming military assault on the Native Nations of the ohio valley and the violent loss of Indian homes to eurochristian occupancy. The smell of blood must have long lingered across the Land of the ohio valley from that long and savage eurochristian invasion and genocidal destruction. At the same time the self-justifying romance of a rightful christian conquest of Indian Land was also fully developed. Indeed, the framing of history becomes critical here because the eurochristian victor never frames this conquest as Genocide. Rather it is framed as a hard won and well-deserved, even god-given, triumph to be forever remembered in hollywoodesque terms. An educated man, RM would certainly be thoroughly familiar with the resulting historical narrative that would have been framed by his neighbors and colleagues in the ohio valley.

The penultimate victory and domination over the aboriginal Peoples of the ohio valley and their Lands was marked with the signing of the Treaty of greenville in 1795, marking the final conclusion of the so-called revolutionary war.[18] And only eight years later, ohio was fully platted into counties and had already been admitted as a new state. Towns were popping up by the dozens. Part of the american romance is encapsulated in the quote from william henry harrison at the beginning of this article: namely, eurochristians who invaded the ohio valley to claim personal property for farming considered “the murdering of the Indians in the highest degree meritorious.”

Moreover, legendary stories of professional murderers who added a large share to the Indian blood drenched Land were being told and retold by the new occupiers of Native Land. Murderers like louis wetzel, jesse hughes and his brother elias hughes, levi morgan and countless others, were hugely appreciated by the vast majority of farmer-invaders who counted on the violence of these men to secure their own squatter share of Indian Land. These professional killers did the dirty work—along with washington’s slash and burn armies—that made eurochristian peace possible. Even so-called pacifist quakers capitalized on this eurochristian violence and built towns on this bloody Land, sometimes even in places named after george washington’s dashing, ruthless killer commander.

Appropriately nicknamed “mad anthony wayne,” he was the general who led the brutal 1790s scorched earth campaign against Native Peoples’ homes.  Virtually all american histories written about the Genocide of the ohio valley frame events as romance, as the rightful and glorious triumph of justified eurochristian (american) violence—until the arrival of more modern critical historians, including especially Native historians. And anthony wayne is persistently framed as the hero who opened the west to eurochristian occupation.[19]

RM was a younger contemporary of Sand Creek genocidaires john evans (1814-97) and john chivington (1821-94), who continued ohio-valley-like violence in colorado and whom RM must have known in colorado through their common methodist connection. Like them, RM grew up in this same caldron of anti-Indian sentiment with its serial murders and fractal genocide of American Indians that produced this infamous book itself. Evans and chivington were born only ten miles apart in southern ohio, about fifty miles north from georgetown where RM grew up; the quaker-born evans is particularly notable as he was born in the quaker community named waynesville.[20] Like fellow quaker and Indian-murderer david morgan, evans eventually repented his quaker upbringing and converted to methodism as a young man.[21]

Morgan murdered the Lenape men who provided the tanned skin covering the book of christian history in 1779 and then converted to methodism in 1786. David then gave the book to methodist minister and close neighbor william barns sometime before david’s death. Following in his father william’s footsteps as a methodist minister, RM then gave this family heirloom to Iliff in 1893, which evans (evidently) gladly received as chair of the board of trustees along with fellow trustees bishop warren and his wife elizabeth iliff warren who together funded the iliff start-up.[22] The anti-Indian violence associated with the book’s cover never seemed to cross anyone’s mind at the time.

Tink Tinker is wazhazhe, a citizen of the Osage Nation. For 33 years he was a professor of American Indian studies at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, Colorado, where he still holds the title emeritus professor. During most of that time, Tinker also was the (non-stipendiary) director of Four Winds American Indian Council in Denver. Tinker has abandoned christianity as a colonialist and Genocidal imposition on Indian Peoples in favor of recapturing the traditional worldview of Native Peoples. Although Tinker was trained in eurochristian theology and bible, he has come to see the Native experience of the interrelationship of all life and our ideal of cosmic balance and harmony as totally incompatible with eurochristian colonialist imaginary of hierarchy, one that sees reality as a manichaean hierarchical struggle of good versus evil. He is the author of American Indian Liberation (Orbis, 2008).


[1] Logan esarey (ed.), messages and letters of william henry harrison, 2 vols. (indiana historical commission, 1922), I: 25.

[2] Haze morgan, a g-g-grandson of david morgan, became the proud owner of “quite a large piece” of the infamous Lenape murder victim’s skin in 1910, taken from an “old fashioned” shot pouch. Haze morgan came by his possession via a man who said in a ca1910 legal affidavit that he was given the piece by a son of david morgan in 1826. James morton callihan, genealogical and personal history of the upper monongahela valley west virginia, vol. 3 (lewis historical publishing company, 1912), 953-54.

[3] The book’s cover had been liberated by the denver American Indian Movement in 1974. See t. tinker “Redskin, tanned hide: a book of christian history bound in the flayed skin of an American Indian: the colonial romance, christian denial and the cleansing of a christian school of theology,” journal of race and ethnicity in religion, volume 5, issue 9, 2014: http://www.raceandreligion.com/JRER/Volume_5_(2014)_files/Tinker%205%209.pdf.

[4] See t. tinker, “What are we going to do with White people? the new polis (december 17, 2019):  https://thenewpolis.com/2019/12/17/what-are-we-going-to-do-with-white-people-tink-tinker-wazhazhe-osage-nation/, where I argue for replacing the usual color code designation “White” with the much more descriptive word eurochristian. Whether the current generation continues to self-identify as chrisitan or not, the whole is shaped by two millennia of christian and european thinking, experience, action and history.

[5] Barbara alice mann, “Fractal massacres in the ‘old northwest’: the example of the Miamis,” journal of genocide research, published online: may 22,  2013: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/14623528.2013.789203.

[6] One example of this romantic conquest narrative informing american life yet today is the infamous fourth grade reader, used in countless schools across the continent yet today: gary paulson, mr. tucket (yearling, 1995). Even the fact that it was published as late as 1995 is revealing. And it was published to rave reviews across the country and plenty of five-star amazon marks. We are told that Paulsen “one of the most honored writers of contemporary literature for young readers.” And publishers weekly called it: “A real knock ’em, sock ’em ripsnorter…Superb characterizations, splendidly evoked setting, and thrill-a-minute plot make this book a joy to gallop through.” I would add, “Unless you are American Indian.” Mr. paulsen’s characterization of American Indians (Pawnees) is abhorrent and hateful, not to say thoroughly racist. And the book is profoundly White-supremacist. When it showed up in my daughter’s classroom, we had to fight with the principal and the school district to have the book removed.

[7] In 1808 david morgan’s son stephen says of his father, “I certainly would not class him an Indian-fighter…. He was a christian, a patriot, a soldier, a surveyor, and a very good farmer, the profession of which he is most proud, and a loving, and most times, a too indulgent parent.” monongahela gazette (october 8, 1808). Hs father would have still been alive, and stephen was by then sheriff of monongahela county.

[8] To trace some of the continuing celebration of david morgan’s murders in west virginia today, see my article: “’damn it, he’s an injun!’ christian murder, colonial wealth, and tanned human skin,” the new polis, january 21, 2019: http://thenewpolis.com/2019/01/21/damn-it-hes-an-injun-christian-murder-colonial-wealth-and-tanned-human-skin-tink-tinker-wazhazhe-udsethe/.

[9] “Morgan monument: rivesville, w. va.,” west virginia history: on view: https://wvhistoryonview.org/catalog/044645 and again at https://wvhistoryonview.org/catalog/028279.

[10] “Man stands next to sarah morgan monument, rivesville, w. va.,” west virginia history: on view: https://wvhistoryonview.org/catalog/044646.

[11] See “Indian park-burrows cemetery” where sarah (morgan) burris/burroughs is highlighted as a pioneer hero in relationship to her father’s murders: http://wvmarkers.com/monongalia.

[12] https://www.theclio.com/entry/32054;

[13] Lindsey fleming, “morgan family plans 100th reunion,” tribune business news, june 4, 2007, p.1; mallory panuska, “morgan reunion ‘celebration of our state’,” times west virginian (august 2, 2007), https://www.timeswv.com/news/local_news/morgan-reunion-celebration-of-our-state/article_67ef8bfe-9b4b-520b-8b58-62b739792e2a.html.

[14] This is the bizarre claim of elizabeth kuskulis, a local denver reporter, writing about the iliff book in 1934: “iliff has old book bound in slain Indian’s skin,” the rocky mountain news (1934): iliff library archives: “Iliff Library Has Old Book Bound in Slain Indian’s Skin,” The Rocky Mountain News Article | Iliff Digital Collections. Never mind that a man was killed to make for this christian vestment.

[15] Barbara mann, george washington’s war against Native America (greenwood, 2005).

[16] kate mason rowland, “the ohio company,” the william and mary quarterly, vol. 1, no. 4 (1893): 197–203. Virginians thomas lee, lawrence and augustine washington formed the ohio company of virginia in 1748. The large array of investors included, of course, lawrence and augustine’s younger brother george. Ron chernow, washington: a life (penguin, 2010).

[17] See my “Damn it, he’s an Injun!” for a fuller exploration of the lucrative washington-crawford relationship. Crawford, like washington, was fighting for pecuniary interests.

[18] The Treaty of greenville comes a dozen years after the treaty of paris ended military conflict between britain and the u.s. But george washington and the continental congress had always conducted a western front of that war against American Indian Peoples of western new york and the ohio valley. The Treaty of greenville marked an american conclusion of that engagement even as it left Indian Peoples of the ohio valley completely dissatisfied. See, for instance, eric hemenway (Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa Indians), “Summer 1795: The Treaty of Greenville creates an uneasy peace”national park service.

[19] Scores of towns, cities, counties, dozens of public schools and the like across the u.s. are named after wayne. The “miami monthly meeting” of friends is still located in the quaint old quaker town of waynesville.

[20] Evans parents lived long lives and served as key leaders in their quaker community, the miami monthly meeting.

[21] Glenn lough, now and long ago, p. 682. In an interview with california historian h.h. bancroft, evans actually said his conversion to methodism from Quakerism had been a convenient excuse for killing Indians in Colorado. As one reads the interview, one must remember that evans  is carefully framing his opinions within the american romance of the spread of what he calls civilization:

…. teaching them what was the proper doctrine as the British government did, that they had a right to hunt on the land, but that right must be subject to the higher occupation of the land, for a larger population and for civilization.

Their wildness should have been impressed upon them from the beginning. I think these Indians that I went out to hold that conference with wandered over five hundred miles of country in diameter, and there were only a few hundred of them. I have always been strongly impressed with the injustice that the Indians suffered and with a desire to help civilize them. At the same time when we came to be butchered by them, it is right to defend ourselves and there my Quaker sentiments desert me.

    Hubert howe bancroft papers – university of colorado at boulder, library – archives 200 Interviews. copies of 32 originals pertaining to SAND [originals in bancroft library, u. of CA, berkeley, CA.] [SAND-COLL – (Sand Creek Massacre NHS – collections, rec’d – february 20, 2015)].

[22] While we do not know the actualities of the historical involvement of evans or other trustees in the gift transaction, we do know that the university was a small institution at that time. In 1890 the total enrollment was 848 students. Julia mertes, “Exploring du: the history of university hall,” du clarion (april 19, 2022): https://duclarion.com/2022/04/exploring-du-the-history-of-university-hall/#:~:text=During%20the%20school%20year%20of,total%20enrollment%20of%20848%20students. So, we can presume that evans, warren and his wife knew about this book, and as methodists, they would have known rev. barns. Particularly, bishop warren would have known barns well since barns was one of his conference ministers and he would have assigned him to ministerial posts each annual conference.

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