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On the trail of the lost sister…Frances Slocum

Long before the Witness Protection Program, a Pennsylvania native found herself relocated in Indiana, living under an assumed identity.

Long before the Witness Protection Program, a Pennsylvania native found herself relocated in Indiana, living under an assumed identity.

Not the tag-line for a crime drama, but the real-life Revolutionary War story of Frances Slocum.

In the wake of the Wyoming massacre, American settlers in the Pennsylvania’s Susquehanna River valley were living in terror.

On November 2, 1778, a group of Delaware Indians entered the home of Mr. and Mrs. Jonathan Slocum in present-day Wilkes-Barre, and carried off one of their ten children. Barely five at the time, Frances was called Maconaquah, or “Young Bear” by her captors, because of her protests.

Many years later, Frances recalled that on the first night, “I was very tired, and lay down on the ground and cried till I was asleep.”

In time, however, the captive was assimilated: “[Delaware chief Tuck Horse] dressed my hair in the Indian way, and then painted my face and skin. He then dressed me in beautiful wampum beads, and made me look, as I thought, very fine. I was much pleased with the beautiful wampum.”

Adopted by an elderly Delaware couple, Frances made her way westward to Niagara Falls, and Detroit, before settling on the Eel River near Ke-ki-ong-a (now Fort Wayne). After her first marriage to a Delaware Indian, Maconaquah’s second husband was a deaf Miami chief, named She-pan-can-ah, with whom she had four children.

The family decamped to the banks of the Mississinewa River, as Frances recalled, sometime before the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811. It was in a log cabin near Peoria, that Isaac Slocum discovered his long-lost sister in 1838, having been alerted to the identity of the “white woman who lives among the Indians” by Indian trader George Ewing.

The white-haired woman Isaac met at the “Deaf-Man’s Village” was wearing at least seven pairs of silver earrings, but he was convinced of his sister’s identity when he noticed that the end of her left forefinger was missing, the result of a mishap he recalled from their Pennsylvania childhood.

Speaking through an interpreter, Frances resisted her brother’s entreaties to return to the Slocum homestead. “I have always lived with the Indians,” she explained; “they have always used me very kindly; I am used to them. The Great Spirit has always allowed me to live with them, and I wish to live and die with them.”

Remaining in Indiana with her two daughters and their families, Frances conceded to the Slocums’ request that she sit for the famed Indian portraitist George Winter, who noted “some resemblance to her family (white), yet her cheek bones seemed to have the Indian characteristics. Her personal appearance suggested the idea of her being a half-breed Pottawattamie woman.”

Frances Slocum died in 1847 at the age of 74.

Pennsylvania’s Frances Slocum State Park marks the lands where the captive spent her first nights away from home. Along the Mississinewa River, the Frances Slocum State Recreational Area and Lost Sister Trail are a tribute to the historical figure, who witnessed early American history from a singular perspective.

The watercolor study and oil portrait that resulted from Slocum’s sittings for George Winter are now in the collection of the Tippecanoe County Historical Association.

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