Tom Quick: let a sleeping legend lie

| 29 Sep 2011 | 07:57

    MILFORD - A lot of what people love about Milford has to do with its Victorian charm, but along with the architecture, Victorian era Milford also had an entirely different set of moral standards and a different view of Tom Quick. Who was Tom Quick and were the stories about him fact or fantasy? Was he a storyteller whose fanciful tales became legend, a cunning hunter taking vengeance for his murdered father, or a sociopath serial killer? Quick (1734-1795) was said to have been the first white child born in what is today Milford. His father was killed in an Indian raid on their home, which Quick was said to have witnessed and which is supposed to have started a life-long quest for revenge. In later years, he told stories about the Indians that he had killed, none of which have ever been documented. 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 (out west).” A book, “The Life and Adventures of Tom Quick, The Indian Slayer” had been published in 1851. Milford made Quick an official legend in 1889, when the community erected the Settlers Monument and transferred his remains there from his original grave in Matamoras. The monument also honored Quick’s father as the borough’s first settler, but accounts of the ceremony left little doubt that the “avenger of the Delaware” had top billing. But the passage of time brought changing standards about heroes. Some became adamantly opposed to the idea of the town’s memorializing someone whose claim to fame was killing people because of their race. 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 region” In 1997, the Quick’s zinc monument in the middle of Sarah Street was vandalized with a sledgehammer and severely damaged. The vandals were never caught. Borough officials had a cast-aluminum replacement made but initally hesitated to reinstall it, in part because their insurance carrier would not pay for repairs again. A debate over displaying the monument again began. 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. A 2003 forum, held at the Tom Quick Inn, determined that none of Quick’s tales/crimes could be verified and some Native Americans agreed that a monument, with some editing in its language, could be re-erected. Iris Stringer, an American Indian, said the community used to ignore the idea that killing Indians was offensive to anyone. She did not want to 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.” But in 2004 a chief of the Lenape tribe, whose people were Quick’s likely victims, asked the borough not to put the monument up again. Today the controversy has died down, the monument remains in storage and critics say Milford’s hiding the monument isn’t a resolution. But Borough Council President Matthew Osterberg is just as happy to have no need to address the subject. “I don’t know where to go with it anymore,” he admitted. “There were some people who wanted to see it put back,” he said. Osterberg believes the racism charges against Milford were unfair, recalling that the 1889 ceremony also honored the centennial of the US Constitution and that black veterans of the Civil War played a prominent role in the ceremony. However, “I’m not trying to change history.” But how much is history and how much is legend? The legend issue has always bothered Fluhr who says there was no contemporary historical account of Quick’s activities. The stories were retold for half a century before the book was published. One of the more popular legends is readily debunked by Quick’s interment at the Milford monument. Legend had it that he died of smallpox, and his body was chopped up by Indian enemies, who 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, saw 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’...He was psychotic.” Fluhr concluded. That said, he added, “But the memorial is still a grave. You have to do something with it.” Perhaps, but Milford Borough isn’t about to introduce the issue again soon, Osterberg said. “What worries me more than new vandalism,” in putting the monument back up “is the emotions that could get stirred up.” Positions have crystalized and “somebody could get hurt.”