About eight years ago, Dr. David Murphy, Anderson University professor and chair of the history and political science department, graded a paper concerning the Fall Creek Massacre. Usually Murphy sees grading as a “bit of drudgery” in an otherwise enjoyable profession, but this time the situation yielded a different result. “It was the story itself that drew me,” explained Murphy. That story led Murphy to write Murder in Their Hearts.
Murphy published Murder in Their Hearts, his third book, in July; the first two books contained subject matter concerning German history and were published in 1997 and 2002.
Born in 1960 in Rockford, Ill., Murphy grew up loving to write but never thought he was creative enough to write professionally. His thoughts shifted after he took a World Civilization class taught by a Jesuit priest during his freshman year of high school. “He was older, well-traveled and well-read, and he provided the inspiration for my history career,” Murphy said.
After high school, Murphy stayed in his home state to earn degrees from the University of Southern Illinois and University of Illinois. His doctorate, however, came from time spent at the Free University of Berlin, the city’s largest university. While he enjoyed traveling and being in Europe, Murphy now refers to the old adage that one can see the universe from a grain of sand. Holding on to this wisdom, Murphy has less desire to travel and relishes the opportunity to study and learn from his local grain of sand in Indiana. This increased his desire to write and learn about the story of the Fall Creek Massacre.
The story of the Fall Creek Massacre concerns a group of white men in 1824 who murdered nine Indians in Madison County, Ind. Murphy explained that while single, unattached men dominated the “wild west” with violent and reckless behavior, Indiana had “frontier families,” which included women and children, and a relatively low murder rate. This family focus and low homicide rate increased public awareness following the murder of the nine Indians. For the first time in American history, white men were brought to justice for murdering Native Americans.
“The fear of Native American backlash was a major reason for the harsh punishment these men received,” explained Murphy. The punishment was death by hanging. White settlers numbered only a few hundred in the area at that time, but thousands of Indians still resided in what is now central Indiana, which caused settlers to worry about retribution and the consequential effect on property values. Murphy reports that the federal agent assigned to the duty of interacting with the local Native Americans used the executions to send the message that vengeance was unnecessary as the men’s actions were unacceptable and not supported by the settlers.
Researching and writing the book took approximately four years, and the most difficult issue was determining fact from myth. “It took digging and thought. That was hard,” Murphy said. Part of the problem was that some of the most basic records were wrong. “Even official documents on the case were off by an entire month,” recalled Murphy. The inaccuracies were attributed to a county clerk who, according to Murphy and other accounts, was “next to illiterate.”
Murphy also noted the support shown to him by the university, which included a sabbatical leave. Murphy enjoyed working locally because the sources for the story were so close. Murphy reported he could get “a lot” accomplished in just one week.
Again staying local, Murphy chose the Indiana Historical Society as his publisher. “They really were the best fit,” Murphy said, because they provided illustrations and spent a great deal of money advertising and drawing attention to the book.
An Indiana University course has already adopted Murphy’s book as required reading, and it has appeared twice as Amazon’s bestselling book on Indiana history. When asked how many copies have sold to date, Murphy said he will not know until after the holidays. After a brief pause, an optimistic smile came across his face, and he added, “Many, I hope.”
— Kyle Beckman is a junior from Auburn, Ind., majoring in communication arts and business-information systems and minoring in political science. Beckman is an associate with Fifth Street Communications™, writing on behalf of Anderson University Office of University Communications.
Anderson University is a private Christian university of 2,700 undergraduate and graduate students in central Indiana. Anderson continues to be recognized as a top Christian college: in 2009, U.S. News and World Report ranked Anderson University among the best colleges and universities in the Midwest for the sixth consecutive year. Established in 1917 by the Church of God, Anderson University offers more than 65 undergraduate majors and graduate programs in business, education, music, nursing and theology.