Unfortunate Incident at McNutt's
The year was 1828, the place, southern Wisconsin, thirty miles from present day Madison. Two frontiersmen by the names of David McNutt and John Boner built a rude log hut very near to the Winnebago village of Spotted Arm. At this early time the prairies between the Sugar and Pecatonica Rivers were still devoid of European settlers. Another Winnebago village, White Breasts, lay another twelve miles downstream on the Sugar. This entailed the entire population of the area. Boner and Mcnutt set up a trading post in their cabin, trading mostly for furs and lead ore from the native population.
Neither of the two spoke the Winnebago dialect so they employed an interpreter to do the negotiations. It is through this interpreter's eyes that the following tale unfolds. He told it at the trial of David McNutt, which took place in the Michigan Territorial court at Prairie du Chien, being the nearest seat of justice those many years ago.
The interpreter's name was Martin Vansickle and some said he had a hard time telling the truth. In fact the jury thought he was a damned liar and acquitted the defendant. We found the following information from original documents, on file at the Wisconsin State Historical Society, as Vansickle's testimony at the trial. You, the reader, can judge for yourself the veracity of this account.
"I was living with John Boner in a small cabin. The deceased (Boner) was trading with the Indians in partnership with David McNutt. McNutt had been absent for several days and returned (from Blue Mounds) with a keg of brandy. McNutt and Boner drank several times of the brandy. Did not drink to excess. Appeared somewhat exhilarated, but not intoxicated."
McNutt then told Vansickle, the interpreter, to cook up some coffee and fritters at the fireplace. As he was doing so McNutt pulled a rifle on him and ordered him from the cabin.
"I left the house and went round to the backside and looked into the house through a hole in the wall. Saw McNutt arise from the place where he was sitting and walk up to Boner, present the rifle to his breast , and heard him order Boner to leave the house. Boner refused to go and took hold of the gun and turned it aside. Boner asked McNutt why he had driven me from the house and observed that as I was their interpreter they could do no business without me."
Vansickle was then brought back into the cabin and returned to his cooking at the fire. McNutt stood and glowered at the other two for a half hour but said nothing.
"McNutt at last seized the rifle again and said, 'Whose house is this?' and at the same instant rushed at Boner and struck him violently with the rifle."
The end of the gun struck a shelf full of dishes and knocked them down, which prevented Boner from receiving the full force of the blow. He repeated the blow and struck Boner with great force across the back of the neck and shoulders, which threw him under the table on the opposite side of the room.
"I then ran out of the house and immediately heard Boner call for help. I returned to the door and saw McNutt holding Boner up and let him fall with great violence to the floor. I saw McNutt feel for a pistol and jumped away from the door. The pistol was instantly discharged and the ball struck the ground near where I stood. I then went to the side of the house and looked through a space between the logs."
From his crack in the wall Vansickle said he saw Boner finished off with the broken breech of the gun. "...and the blood and brains splattered against the wall."
Vansickle then fled from the tragedy at the trading post and hurried to Spotted Arms village some five miles away where he spent the night in one of the lodges. This village was located close to the Green/Dane county line north of New Glarus.
"In the morning about a half hour after sunrise an Indian which I had placed on lookout told me that McNutt was coming. I ran out of the lodge and hid in the long grass."
McNutt searched though the village but could not find Vansickle lying low in his hiding place.
"After McNutt was gone one young Indian and two women followed him. About noon the Indians returned and said that McNutt had left the trading post and gone on horseback towards Green Bay and had taken several blankets and some merchandise."
"I then returned to the trading house. When I arrived I found Boner on the floor. A blanket was lying on the floor which partly covered his head. I wrapped the dead body in the blanket and with the assistance of the Indians dug a grave and buried it. I then packed the goods that were in the house on the horses of the Indians and went to Mr. Duncan's house in the settlement of Blue Mounds."
Here Vansickle's story ends but we know from other sources that when Vansickle arrived in Blue Mounds McNutt was already there, somewhat intoxicated. He was arrested on Vansickle's evidence and sent to Prairie du Chien for trial.
The jury didn't entirely believe Vansickle's story,since others at the trial swore to his being a notorious liar. He was the only witness to the crime so David McNutt was set free and quickly left Michigan Territory.
John Boner lies in the ground in an unmarked grave somewhere between Monticello and Dayton. Even the site of their trading post has been lost to history, although I have a pretty good idea of where it may be. The exact events of what led to the quarrel and murder in the first trading post in Green County will always remain uncertain.