Milwaukee Reverberations

12 Killing of Ellsworth Burnett, & The First Murderers

From James S. Buck's Pioneer History of Milwaukee (1876-1886)

These paragraphs & the next, longer chapter tell one story—in two different versions—of violent conflict between early white settlers & Indigenous peoples in the region.


In the fall of 1835, Ellsworth Burnett and Col. James Clyman went to Rock River, hunting land, and, while making camp near the present town of Theresa, in Dodge county, Burnett was shot dead, and Clyman badly wounded in the left arm, and his back filled with small shot. This occurred about dusk. Holding his wounded arm in his right hand, Clyman, who was a noted woodsman, made a bee-line for Milwaukee, fifty miles distant. He traveled all that night, the next day and night, and at noon the second day came out at the Cold Spring, having eaten nothing for fifty hours. Col. Clyman was tall and wiry in form, and capable of enduring great fatigue, as this journey fully demonstrated. This killing was done by two Indians, named Ashe-ca-bo-ma and Ush-ho-ma, alias Mach-e-oke-mah, (father and son,) for some fancied wrong. They were promptly arrested, confined in the fort at Green Bay, until June, ’37, when they were brought to Milwaukee, and tried before Judge Frazier, convicted, and the old man sentenced to be hung; but both were finally pardoned by Governor Dodge, as an offset to the escape of the two white men, Scott and Bennett, the murderers of Manitou, the Indian killed, as stated, in ’36, these villains having escaped from the jail in April, ’37, no doubt by the aid of friends, and were never retaken. I was present at the trial of these Indians. Clyman is now living in Oregon.

James S. Buck, “Killing of Ellsworth Burnett.” Pioneer History of Milwaukee, volume 1 (Milwaukee News Co., 1876-1886): pp. 31-32. Original Source: New York Public Library.


Perhaps no new city has ever been founded in which a murder was not committed. At least Milwaukee cannot claim to be an exception. Among those who came in ’36 were two hard cases, known as Joseph Scott and Cornelius Bennett. These villains killed an Indian named Manitou (or the Spirit), in the month of November, in front of Wm. Brown’s store, southwest corner of East Water and Michigan streets.

This murder was wholly unprovoked, and the excitement growing out of it among the Indians (some three hundred of whom were camped here at the time) was intense, so much so that it required all the courage and influence of Solomon Juneau to prevent them from killing every white man in the place. The murderers were at once arrested and confined, first in the office of Albert Fowler, southwest corner of East Water and Wisconsin, until the jail was completed, when they became its first occupants, where the writer saw them in the month of January, ’37, while awaiting their trial, which they were not destined to get in Milwaukee, for in April they escaped from the jail, assisted, no doubt, from the outside, and were never retaken.

Another version of this story appears in part of A.T. Andreas’s History of Milwaukee called “Indian Title Extinguished” that appears earlier in this part of this digital reader (“Milwaukee Reverberations”).

Scott was hung afterwards at Laporte, June 15th, 1838, for the murder of his own uncle. Bennett was never heard from. Scott was the most villainous looking rascal for a white man that I have ever seen.

By an omission in Chapter III, no mention was made of the first cemetery on the East Side. It was upon that block bounded by Astor, Racine, Kewaunee and Brady streets. I have helped to bury quite a number there. The bodies, however, have all, or nearly all, been removed long ago. With the exception of the Potter’s Field, near the Hospital, there is now no cemetery on the East Side. There was an old Indian cemetery upon the bluffs at Huron street, where, as has already been stated, Manitou, killed by Scott and Bennett, was buried.

James S. Buck, “The First Murderers.” Pioneer History of Milwaukee, volume 1 (Milwaukee News Co., 1876-1886): pp. 80-81. Original Source: New York Public Library.