The true story of Tom Quick, Controversial Indian Fighter, Hero or Serial Killer?

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Tom Quick, Indian Slayer of Pennsylvania

Hero or Serial Killer?

By Ronald Wall
12 June 2014

Tom Quick was the nephew of Thomas Thunessis Quick and Rymerick Westfall daughter of Juriaen Westfall who came to New Netherlands from Holland in the seventeenth century.  On the previous page Vicki Moon told the story of Tom Quick, known as "the Indian Slayer." Vicki related how, early in the French and Indian War, a party of native warriors, known to white men as Delaware Indians because of their original home along the Delaware River, killed Tom's father in an ambush. Tom was a young man when he witnessed the killing of his father and the mutilation of his body. Unable to save his father, he and his cousin watched from a hiding place nearby.  Afterwards, Quick supposedly swore an oath of revenge. Whether his oath is romantic fiction or a fact, for four decades Tom Quick Jr. killed his enemy with no remorse or mercy until old age and sickness prevented him from prowling the forest. During the war, many of his Colonial Dutch and English neighbors considered him a hero for fearlessly fighting an enemy they considered a savage and for protecting their homes from attack.  After the war, Quick suddenly became a problem for authorities trying to keep the peace and settlers fearing he could trigger another war with local Native American tribes.  Some accounts say he was arrested for murder and jailed once, but escaped. He hid out in the wilderness, protected by some of his neighbors and friends. Eventually, the authorities gave up trying to catch and arrest him. Below, we recount some of the stories about the killings Tom committed in the name of revenge.  James E. Quinlan began gathering material for his book about Tom from surviving witnesses born after the war who by the early nineteenth century were old men.  According to some of these witnesses, Tom told these stories with a hint of pride in his voice. We have not added anything to the unflattering details, of which Tom seemed to be unashamed. We will let you decide for yourself, was Tom Quick a hero or simply a serial killer?  The accounts of Tom Quick's exploits were first published in Quinlan's book, which is available at the following link.  I suspect that the words supposedly spoken by Quick were largely imagined by Quinlan, thus he assigned the category of fiction to his book.  Nevertheless, the stories themselves were from the memories of old men who once knew Tom Quick.  "Tom Quick The Indian Slayer and the pioneers of Minisink and Wawarsink", by James E. Quinlan, Monticello, NY, De Voe and Quinlan Publishers, 1851

The Murders of Native Americans As Told By Those Who Knew Tom Quick

Soon after the close of the French and Indian war, many Indians returned to the area of their former homes along the Delaware River. But now it was a white man’s world. The natives had lost much of their traditional way of life.  In a story repeated often in the history of Native America, the inability of their bodies to metabolize alcohol, a loss of purpose in their lives and intoxication's ability to blunt reality led many, then as now to become alcoholics. A former warrior named Muskwink was one of those who could not adapt to the new way of life. He spent much of his time at Decker’s Tavern near the Dutch settlement of Minisink on the Delaware River, now part of Sussex County, New Jersey.  There he would drink himself into a stupor. According to Quinlan, Tom Quick came to the tavern one day while Muskwink was there. The former warrior was well into his cups when he recognized Tom and tried to strike up a conversation. Unfortunately, Muskwink decided to talk about the death of Tom’s father. Alcohol had drowned any sense of caution the former warrior may have had. Muskwink told Tom that he was one of the warriors that helped to kill Tom’s father. Muskwink recounted the episode in detail, leaving no doubt that what he claimed was true. Muskwink bragged that he tore off the scalp of the elder Quick with his own hands. Then he mimicked the dying struggle of Tom’s father. Finally, he showed Tom a button he had torn off the father's coat.  Seared in Tom's memory was the vision of the slaughter that day as he watched helplessly from his hiding place on the bank of the river. I suspect, but cannot prove, that this tale is a bit of exaggeration.  I have no doubt that Tom Quick murdered Muskwink, but I have my doubts about the conversation that supposedly took place.  I believe it is probable that the man had made a necklace or some other form of decoration of the buttons from the coat of the senior Quick.  When Tom saw them, he recognized them and that was enough to provoke what followed.  Since Quinlan's book was labeled as a novel, he was free to exaggerate.

Over the fireplace in the tavern was a rifle suspended on hooks. Tom took down the rifle and checked to see if it was loaded and primed. He then pointed the firearm directly at the Indian’s heart. No one in the tavern was surprised at this. They were surprised that Tom, rather than shooting the Indian on the spot, ordered him to leave the tavern.  Even as drunk as he was, Muskwink realized he had no option except to obey. Tom followed the Indian out of the tavern and forced Muskwink to walk down the main road to Minisink.  Muskwink walked in front followed by Tom with the gun to the Indian’s back. They walked about a mile, out of sight and sound of the tavern. Suddenly, Tom exclaimed, “You Indian dog, you will kill no more white men” and pulled the trigger. Shot in the back, Muskwink jumped a couple of feet off the ground and fell dead in the road. Tom retrieved his father’s coat buttons from the body and dragged it off the road into the woods. He covered the dead man with dirt and leaves so no one would find him. He returned to the tavern and replaced the gun. Without a word, Tom left the tavern and the neighborhood.

Several years later, Philip Decker was plowing this land, which had been cleared and turned to a farm field. His plow uncovered the bones, which he was sure belonged to the ill-fated Muskwink. Doing the decent thing, Decker dug a grave nearby and gave the warrior a Christian burial.   This may have been Tom’s first killing outside of the Indian war. The authorities made no attempt to arrest Tom Quick. Most of the frontiersmen thought that the killing was justified given the circumstances. When Tom killed again, he could claim no such alibi.

Not long after the murder of Muskwink, Tom was hunting along the Delaware River. He concealed himself in some high reeds waiting for a deer or bear to come along. Before long an Indian family, a man, his wife and three young children, came up the river in a canoe not far off the bank. The mother was breast feeding the youngest child. Tom waited quietly until they were within easy gunshot range then he rose up and ordered the man to bring the canoe ashore. Tom claimed later that he recognized the man as one who had often visited his family before the war. He also claimed that during the war, this man was a warrior involved in several undescribed atrocities. The man recognized Tom immediately. He had heard of Muskwink's murder and supposedly Tom’s oath to kill all Indians who came his way. However, he had no recourse but to do as Tom said. After he brought the canoe ashore, Tom demanded to know where the family was going. The man answered Tom as politely and respectfully as he could. 

Quinlan's immaginary dialog between the two went like this: “You have reached the end of your journey. Your tribe murdered my father and my relatives during the war and I have sworn vengeance against all of your race."

The man replied, “It is now peace-time. We have buried the hatchet and we are now again brothers.”

"There can be no peace between me and red skins. I have sworn to kill all of your kind that came within my power."

With that reply, Tom shot his former neighbor in the chest, killing him almost instantly. Tom charged into the water and waded to the canoe and murdered the women with a tomahawk blow to her skull as she tried to protect the baby with her body. When  the infant looked into Tom’s eyes and smiled, Tom paused for a second when tinge of pity flashed in his brain then, killed the baby with a single blow.  The two toddlers dodged about screaming and crying in terror, trying to escape from this mad man. It was no use, the two died the same way their parents and sibling had.  If there remained even an glimmer of humanity in the heart of Tom Quick, this brutal murder erased it.

Years later as an old man when he felt he was in no danger for doing so, he told of the moment he slew the two children. He said that they dodged about, making it hard for him to land a blow.  He said, “They squawked like young crows” before he could crush their skulls. When asked why he killed the innocent baby and the children who did not deserve to be brutally murdered, Tom simply replied, “Nits make lice.” However, immediately after this massacre, Tom realized that even his stoutest supporters might find his actions reprehensible. If nothing else, they would fear retaliation from their Native American neighbors after such an atrocity. To conceal his crime, Tom gathered up heavy rocks and made ropes from the bark of a basswood tree.  He tied the stones to the bodies and took them to the deepest part of the river where there was a strong rift. He dumped the bodies overboard and waited until he was sure they had sunk to the bottom.  Tom returned to the shore and destroyed the canoe and the meager possessions of the family.  He wanted to be sure that no evidence of his crime would ever be found.

Much later, as an old man, he told his nephew Jacob Quick of the murders.  Long after Tom’s death, Jacob recounted the tale to the historian James E. Quinlan who was writing "Tom Quick, the Indian Slayer; and the Pioneers of Minisink and Wawarsink."  Quinlan's book contains most of what we know about Tom Quick. In 1851, DeVoe and Quinlan of Monticello, New York published the book as a historical novel. Quinlan thought of Tom Quick as a hero.  Even so, the unflattering details of Tom Quick's killings are painfully obvious in the book.  I am one to say that we should be careful not judge our ancestors by today's standards.  While that applies to Quick as well, it is hard to see any virtue, then or now, for his actions.  Many of his contemporaries must have felt the same way because there were those who pressed authorities to have him arrested for murder as early as the murder of Muskwink.

After the killings of the Native American family, Quick was much more careful about his killings.  When he was hunting, if he heard gun file, he would try to sneak up to the location of the shot.  If he found an Indian skinning a deer or some other game, he would murder the man.  After hiding the body, he would finish dressing the animal and take the hunter's gun and leave the scene.  He would usually hide the gun in the hollow of a tree or some other spot where he could find it if needed.  On occasion he would take the rifle with him into one of the settlements.  If asked where he got it, he would reply that he found it next to a dead Indian.

When Native Americans men came into one of the settlements where Quick was, Tom would pretend to befriend them.  Because he spoke their language fluently and was well acquainted with their customs, it was usually an easy thing for him to do.  After gaining their confidence, he would invite them to a day of hunting, after which the Indians were never seen again.  Such an occasion arose when two natives came into the settlement at Minisink, which is on the New Jersey side of the upper Delaware River, to trade their skins and procure ammunition.  They stayed in the settlement for several days and Tom pretended to befriend them.  He invited them to join him in a hunt at a place called Hagen Pond.  One of the men suggested that Tom and the other man hunt while he remained at the pond to fish.  This suited Tom.  He knew that both men were his equal in strength and skill and it would have been impossible to overcome both at once.  The men planned to take separate routes to the pond and one was to meet Tom at a place called Rock Cabin.  Tom arrived at the cabin first and set up an ambush.  When the native man stepped out of the woods, Quick shot and killed him.  He covered the body in leaves and branches and then proceeded to the Pond, where he shot and killed the second man.

Tom himself in his later years would often tell his stories in a tone that sounded as if he thought he deserved some great credit for his deeds. His apologists argue that Tom was led to these acts of extreme cruelty by his constant brooding over perceived wrongs and the unrelenting thirst for revenge. I think probable he simply enjoyed killing, and at the time Native American victims were not likely to cause too much of a stir among his neighbors, family and friends. Like most serial killers, it is likely that the more he killed the more he wanted to kill. The Indians were mostly objects of opportunity and a convenient excuse. He knew that so soon after the war it was unlikely that justice would come to him for the act of killing Indians. 

Tom Quick began telling of his deeds when he was an old man. He knew by then his neighbors considered him a local hero and his killings (the ones that we know about) had happened so long in the past no one would care. It was then that he began unrestrained in telling what he had done. Before then he told only those he knew he could trust. However, from the beginning rumors leaked. So much so that when someone came across the body of an Indian in the woods, everyone assumed that Tom was responsible. Still, he eluded the authorities and justice never came.

There are several more tales like the Indian family story. James Quinlan, who was perhaps a fan of Tom Quick, wrote of other killings. Quinlan heard these stories from people most of whom thought of Tom Quick as a hero.  Nevertheless, the devious nature and unabashed cruelty of the man still echoes through them. He killed his victims after he maneuvered them into a spot where they could not retaliate and while they were helpless. More stories of Tom Quick’s exploits can be found at the web site for New York Genealogy and History, part of the Genealogy Trails network.  Do a search on "Tom Quick."   

Ronald N. Wall
Modified: 06 September 2017