The Herald Bulletin

Evening Update


October 9, 2010

AU prof's book details Fall Creek Massacre

David Murphy's new work result of in-depth research

ANDERSON — A few years ago, a student wrote a paper that fascinated history professor David Murphy, who has been a member of the faculty at Anderson University for 19 years.

The subject? The Fall Creek Massacre.

In 1824, nine Native Americans were slaughtered by a gang of men in southern Madison County. Four of those murdered were children under the age of 10.

”I thought the paper was wonderfully written, and I became interested in the historical aspects of the murder,” Murphy said. “I spent four years doing research on the massacre and another year to write the book. Lucky for me the university gave me a year sabbatical or I would still be writing the book today.”

His “Murder in Their Hearts: The Fall Creek Massacre” was recently published by the Indiana Historical Society Press.

Of the victims in the 1824 massacre, three women and two men were slain execution-style.

Four of the seven white men who participated in the crime were captured and charged with murder. Three of the four were convicted and sentenced to death by hanging.

It was the first documented case where white Americans were executed for the murder of Native Americans.

Unlike the historical novel “The Massacre at Fall Creek” by Jessamyn West, Murphy wrote his version of the killings based on documented facts.

“Jessamyn West was a wonderful and gifted author,” Murphy said. “But her account of the massacre was historical fiction. ‘The Massacre at Fall Creek’ is a great book and a wonderful read. But I am a history professor, and I base my writings on facts.”

Murphy did most of his research in the Indiana Room at the Anderson Public Library.

“I am so thankful that librarian and genealogist Beth Oljace assisted me with this project,” Murphy said. “She was a great help in getting this project off the ground.”

Though Murphy is proud of his previous books — “The Heroic Earth: Geopolitical Thought in Weimar Germany, 1918-1933,” published in 1997, and “German Exploration of the Polar World, 1870-1940” in 2002 — the author feels that his latest book is his best publication.

Murphy said the Indiana Historical Society works with authors so their books do not fall by the wayside. And Murphy has been holding book signings.

 “I did not have book signings with my two previous publications,” Murphy said. “So this is all very exciting and new to me.”

Indiana Historical Society Press senior editor Ray Boomhower said that Murphy is a talented writer and the book should be read by everyone interested in Indiana history.

“We at the Indiana Historical Society Press were impressed by the writing of David Murphy,” Boomhower said. “He handled a tragic event in Indiana’s pioneer history with a deft touch, skillfully unraveling the conflicting accounts and backgrounds of those involved.

“He also does an outstanding job of detailing the concerns of the white settlers and their attitudes toward their Native American neighbors. His account of the massacre should be the standard used by historians and students for many years to come.”

When Murphy is not writing, teaching or spending time with his wife, Marcia, and their seven children, he loves to lose himself in a good book.

“Anna Karenina” by Leo Tolstoy is among his favorites, and he feels that Larry McMurtry is one of the most gifted authors in literature.

Last year, Murphy read that McMurtry — the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of “Lonesome Dove” and Academy Award-winning screenplay writer for “Brokeback Mountain” — showed interest in penning a screenplay on the Fall Creek Massacre.

“Larry McMurtry wrote a fascinating book titled ‘Oh What a Slaughter: Massacres in the Old West 1846-1890,’ ” Murphy said. “It was shortly after the book was released when McMurtry said he was interested in writing a screenplay on the Fall Creek Massacre. I’m going to send him a copy of my book and see what happens. Nothing may come out of it, but wouldn’t it be great if McMurtry showed interest in my book and wrote a screenplay from it? That would be so wonderful.”

Murphy is busy promoting “Murder in Their Hearts,” but has plans for his next book. The avid reader is troubled by society’s obsession with electronics and feels that nothing is gained from endless hours of watching television or playing video games.

“It bothers me,” Murphy said. “Can you imagine if a youngster did not have access to electronics one day and spent that same amount of time reading? It might completely change their attitude toward learning.”

The tentative title of the manuscript is “The 21st Century Mind Diet.”

“The manuscript would encourage people to try and rid themselves of electronic addictions and get involved with literature,” Murphy said. “Take a break from watching television and read a book instead. It could turn your life around for the better.”

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