Shanda Renee Sharer


Shanda Renee Sharer (June 6, 1979 – January 11, 1992) was an American girl who was tortured and burned to death in Madison, Indiana, by four teenage girls. She was 12 years old at the time of her death. The incident attracted international attention due to both the brutality of the murder and the young age of the perpetrators, who were aged between 15 and 17 years old. The case was covered on national programs such as Dr. Phil and has inspired a number of episodes on fictional crime shows.

Shanda Sharer

Shanda Renee Sharer was born at Pineville Community Hospital in Pineville, Kentucky, on June 6, 1979, to Stephen Sharer and Jacqueline Vaught. After Sharer’s parents divorced, her mother remarried and the family moved to Louisville, Kentucky. Sharer attended fifth and sixth grades in Louisville at St. Paul School, where she was on the cheerleading, volleyball and softball teams. When her mother divorced again, the family moved in June 1991 to New Albany, Indiana, and Sharer enrolled at Hazelwood Middle School. Early in the school year, she transferred to Our Lady of Perpetual Help School, a Catholic school in New Albany, where she joined the female basketball team.
Events prior to murder

In 1990, 14-year-old Melinda Loveless began dating another young girl named Amanda Heavrin. After Loveless’ father left the family and her mother remarried, Loveless behaved erratically. She got into fights at school, and she felt depressed. She received professional counseling. In March 1991, Loveless disclosed her lesbian orientation to her mother, who was initially furious but eventually accepted it. As the year progressed, though, Loveless’ relationship with Heavrin deteriorated.

Heavrin and Shanda Sharer had met early during the fall semester when they got into a fight; however, they became friends while in detention for the altercation. Loveless immediately grew jealous of Heavrin and Sharer’s relationship. In early October, Heavrin and Sharer attended a school dance, where Loveless found and confronted them. Although Heavrin and Loveless had never formally ended their relationship, Loveless started to date an older girl.

After Heavrin and Sharer attended a festival together in late October, Loveless began to discuss killing Sharer and threatened Sharer in public. Concerned about the effects of their daughter’s relationship with Heavrin, Sharer’s parents arranged for her to transfer to a Catholic school in late November, and the girls started drifting apart by December.
Girls involved in the murder
Melinda Loveless

Melinda Loveless was born in New Albany, Indiana on October 28, 1975, the youngest of three daughters, to Marjorie and Larry Loveless. Larry was drafted into the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War, and he was treated as a hero upon his return. His wife later described him as a pervert who would wear her and her daughters’ underwear and makeup, was incapable of staying monogamous, and had a mixture of jealousy and fascination with seeing her have sex with other men and women. They lived in or near New Albany throughout Melinda’s childhood.

Larry worked irregularly for the Southern Railroad after his military service; his profession allowed him to work whenever most convenient for him. In 1965, Larry became a probationary officer with the New Albany Police Department, but he was fired after eight months when he and his partner assaulted an African-American man whom Larry accused of sleeping with his wife. In 1988, Larry briefly worked as a mail carrier but quit after three months and did very little work, having brought most of his mail home to destroy it.

Marjorie had worked intermittently since 1974. When both parents were working, the family was financially well off, living in the upper-middle-class suburb of Floyds Knobs, Indiana. Larry did not usually share his income with the family and impulsively spent any money he earned on himself, especially firearms, motorcycles and cars. He filed for bankruptcy in 1980. Extended family members often described the Loveless daughters as visiting their houses hungry, apparently not getting food at home.

Through most of their relationship, Larry was unfaithful to his wife and they often had an open marriage. They would often visit bars in Louisville, where Loveless would pretend to be a doctor or a dentist and introduce Marjorie as his girlfriend. He would also “share” her with some of his friends from work, which she found disgusting. During an orgy with another couple at their house, Marjorie tried to commit suicide, an act she would repeat several times throughout her daughters’ childhoods. When Melinda was nine years old, Larry had Marjorie gang raped, after which she tried to drown herself. After that incident, she refused him sex for a month, until he violently raped her as their daughters watched. In the summer of 1986, after she would not let him go home with two women he met at a bar, Larry beat Marjorie so severely that she was hospitalized; he was convicted of battery.

The extent of Larry’s abuse of his daughters and other children is unclear. Various court testimonies claimed he fondled Michelle as an infant, molested Marjorie’s 13-year-old sister early in the marriage, and molested the girls’ cousin Teddy from age 10 to 14. Both older girls said he molested them, though Melinda did not admit this ever happened to her. She slept in bed with him until he abandoned his family when she was 14. In court, Teddy described an incident in which Larry tied all three sisters in a garage and raped them in succession; however the sisters did not confirm this account. Larry was verbally abusive to his daughters and fired a handgun in Michelle’s direction when she was seven, intentionally missing her. He would also embarrass his children by finding their underwear and smelling it in front of other family members.

For two years, beginning when Melinda was five, the family was deeply involved in the Graceland Baptist Church. Larry and Marjorie gave full confession and renounced drinking and swinging while they were members. Larry became a Baptist lay preacher and Marjorie became the school nurse. The church later arranged for Melinda to be taken to a motel room with a 50-year-old man for a five-hour exorcism. Larry became a marriage counselor with the church and acquired a reputation for being too forward with women, eventually attempting to rape one of them. After that incident, the Loveless parents left the church and returned to their former professions, drinking, and open marriage.

In November 1990, Larry was caught spying on Melinda and a friend, and Marjorie attacked him with a knife, sending him to the hospital after he attempted to grab it. She then attempted suicide again, and her daughters called authorities. After this incident Larry filed for divorce and moved to Avon Park, Florida. Melinda felt crushed, especially as Larry remarried. He sent letters to her for a while, playing on her emotions, but eventually severed all contact with her.
Laurie Tackett

Mary Laurine “Laurie” Tackett was born in Madison, Indiana, on October 5, 1974. Her mother was a fundamentalist Pentecostal Christian and her father was a factory worker with two felony convictions in the 1960s. Tackett claimed that she was molested at least twice as a child at ages five and twelve. In May 1989, her mother discovered that Tackett was changing into jeans at school, and, after a confrontation that night, attempted to strangle her. Social workers became involved, and Tackett’s parents agreed to unannounced visits to ensure that child abuse was not occurring. Tackett and her mother came into periodic conflict; at one point, her mother went to Hope Rippey’s house after learning that Rippey’s father had purchased a Ouija board for the girls. She demanded that the board be burnt and that the Rippey house be exorcised.

Tackett became increasingly rebellious after her fifteenth birthday and also became fascinated with the occult. She would often attempt to impress her friends by pretending to be possessed by the spirit of “Deanna the Vampire”. She began to engage in self-harm, especially after early 1991 when she began dating a girl who was involved in the practice. Her parents discovered the self-mutilation and checked her into a hospital on March 19, 1991. She was prescribed an anti-depressant and released. Two days later, with her girlfriend and Toni Lawrence, she cut her wrists deeply and was returned to the hospital. After treatment of her wound, she was admitted to the hospital’s psychiatric ward. She was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and confessed that she had experienced hallucinations since she was a young child. She was discharged on April 12. She dropped out of high school in September 1991.

Tackett stayed in Louisville in October 1991 to live with various friends. She met Melinda Loveless but the two did not become friends until late November. In December, Tackett moved back to Madison on the promise that her father would buy her a car. She still spent most of her time in Louisville and New Albany, and, by December, most of it with Melinda Loveless.
Hope Rippey

Hope Anna Rippey was born in Madison, in June 1976. Her father was an engineer at a power plant. Her parents divorced in February 1984, and she moved with her mother and siblings to Quincy, Michigan, for three years. She claimed that living with her family in Michigan was somewhat turbulent. Her parents resumed their relationship in Madison, Indiana, in 1987. She was reunited with friends Laurie Tackett and Toni Lawrence, whom she had known since childhood, although her parents saw Tackett as a bad influence. As with the other girls, Rippey began to self-harm at age fifteen.
Toni Lawrence

Toni Lawrence was born in Madison, in February 1976. Her father was a boilermaker. She was close friends with Hope Rippey since childhood. She was abused by a relative at age nine and was raped by a teenage boy at age 14, although the police were only able to issue an order to keep the boy away from Lawrence. She went into counseling after the incident but did not follow through. She became promiscuous, began to self-harm, and attempted suicide in eighth grade.
Events of January 10–11, 1992

On the night of January 10, 1992, Toni Lawrence (age 15), Hope Rippey (age 15), and Laurie Tackett (age 17) drove in Tackett’s car from Madison to Melinda Loveless’ house in New Albany. Lawrence, while a friend of Tackett, had not previously met Loveless (age 16), though Rippey had met her once before and had gotten along with her; however, upon arrival, they borrowed some clothes from Loveless, and she showed them a knife, telling them she was going to scare Shanda Sharer with it. Only Loveless had ever met Sharer, although Tackett already knew of the plan to intimidate the 12-year-old girl. Loveless explained to the two other girls that she disliked Sharer for being a copycat and for stealing her girlfriend.

Tackett let Rippey drive the four girls to Jeffersonville, Indiana, where Sharer lived, stopping at a McDonald’s restaurant en route to ask for directions. They arrived at Sharer’s house shortly before dark. Loveless instructed Rippey and Lawrence to go to the door and introduce themselves as friends of Heavrin (Loveless’ former and Sharer’s current girlfriend). They should invite Sharer to come with them to see Heavrin, who was waiting for them at “The Witch’s Castle”, a ruined stone house, also known as Mistletoe Falls, located on an isolated hill overlooking the Ohio River.

Sharer said that she could not go because her parents were awake, and she told the girls to come back around midnight. Loveless was angry at first, but Rippey and Lawrence assured her about returning for Sharer later. The four girls crossed the river to Louisville, Kentucky, and attended a punk rock show at the Audubon Skate Park near Interstate 65. Lawrence and Rippey quickly lost interest in the music and went to the parking lot outside the skate park, where they engaged in sexual activities with two boys in Tackett’s car.

Eventually, the four girls left for Sharer’s house. During the ride, Loveless said that she could not wait to kill Sharer; however, Loveless also said that she found Sharer attractive and would like to have sex with her and that she just intended to use the knife to frighten her. When they arrived at Sharer’s house at 12:30 a.m., Lawrence refused to retrieve Sharer, so Tackett and Rippey went to the door. Loveless hid under a blanket in the back seat of the car with a dull knife.

Sharer was waiting for the girls. Rippey told her that Heavrin was still at the Witch’s Castle. Sharer was reluctant to go with them yet agreed after changing her clothes. As they got in the car, Rippey began questioning Sharer about her relationship with Heavrin just to trigger off Loveless. Loveless, having heard enough, sprang out from the back seat and put the knife to Sharer’s throat and began interrogating her about her sexual relationship with Heavrin. They drove towards Utica, Indiana, and the Witch’s Castle. Tackett told the girls that legend said the house was once owned by nine witches and that townspeople burned the house to get rid of the witches.

At Witch’s Castle, they took a sobbing Sharer in and bound her arms and legs with rope. There, Loveless taunted that she had pretty hair and wondered how pretty she would look if they were to cut it off, which frightened Sharer even more. Loveless began taking off Sharer’s rings and handed each to the girls. At some point, Rippey had taken Sharer’s Mickey Mouse watch and danced to the tune it played. Tackett, sick of the childish games, started describing the dungeon to Sharer, claiming that it was filled with human remains and Sharer’s would be next. Subsequently, Tackett went back to the car where Lawrence followed her to retrieve her cherished smiley face sweater. She returned and lit it on fire but immediately feared that the fire would be spotted by bypassing cars, so they left. During the car ride, Sharer continued begging them to take her back home. Tackett turned on a boom box sitting on her lap that played opera and mimicked Sharer, acting like she was crying, and laughed what she called her “devil laugh”. Loveless ordered Sharer to slip off her bra, which she then handed over to Rippey, who slid off her own bra and replaced it with Sharer’s while steering the car. They became lost, so they stopped for directions at a gas station, where they covered Sharer in a blanket. While Tackett went inside to ask for directions, Lawrence called a boy she knew in Louisville and chatted for several minutes to ease her worries, but did not mention Sharer’s abduction. They returned to the car but became lost again and pulled up to another gas station. There, Lawrence and Rippey spotted a couple of boys and talked to them before once again getting back into the car and leaving, arriving some time later at the edge of some woods near Tackett’s home in Madison, Indiana.

Tackett led them to a garbage dump off a logging road in a densely forested area. Lawrence and Rippey were frightened and stayed in the car. Loveless and Tackett made Sharer strip naked; then, Loveless beat Sharer with her fists. Next, Loveless repeatedly slammed Sharer’s face into her knee, which cut Sharer’s mouth on her own braces. Loveless tried to slash Sharer’s throat, but the knife was too dull. Rippey came out of the car to hold down Sharer. Loveless and Tackett took turns stabbing Sharer in the chest. They then strangled Sharer with a rope until she was unconscious, placed her in the trunk of the car, and told the other two girls that Sharer was dead.

The girls drove to Tackett’s nearby home and went inside to drink soda and clean themselves. When they realized Sharer was screaming in the trunk, Tackett went out with a paring knife and stabbed her several more times, coming back a few minutes later covered with blood. After she washed, Tackett told the girls’ futures with her “runestones”. At 2:30 a.m., Lawrence and Rippey stayed behind as Tackett and Loveless went “country cruising”, driving to the nearby town of Canaan. Sharer continued to make crying and gurgling noises, so Tackett stopped the car. When they opened the trunk, Sharer sat up, covered in blood with her eyes rolled back in her head, but unable to speak. Tackett beat her with a tire iron until she was silent.

Loveless and Tackett returned to Tackett’s house just before daybreak to clean up again. Rippey asked about Sharer, and Tackett laughingly described the torture. The conversation woke up Tackett’s mother, who yelled at her daughter for being out late and bringing home the girls, so Tackett agreed to take them home. She drove to the burn pile, where they opened the trunk to stare at Sharer. Lawrence refused. Rippey sprayed Sharer with Windex and taunted, “You’re not looking so hot now, are you? Now let’s take her pants off and get to it ladies!”
Burned alive

The girls drove to a gas station near Madison Consolidated High School, pumped some gasoline into the car, and bought a two-liter bottle of Pepsi. Tackett poured out the Pepsi and refilled the bottle with gasoline. They drove north of Madison, past Jefferson Proving Ground to Lemon Road off U.S. Route 421, a place known to Rippey. Lawrence remained in the car while Tackett and Rippey wrapped Sharer, who was still alive, in a blanket, and carried her to a field by the gravel country road. Tackett made Rippey pour the gasoline on Sharer, and then they set her on fire. Loveless was not convinced Sharer was dead, so they returned a few minutes later to pour the rest of the gasoline on her.

The girls went to a McDonald’s restaurant at 9:30 a.m. for breakfast, where they laughed about Sharer’s looking like one of the sausages they were eating. Lawrence, horrified, phoned a friend and told her about the murder. Tackett then dropped off Lawrence and Rippey at their homes and finally returned to her own home with Loveless. She told Heavrin that they had killed Sharer and arranged to pick up Heavrin later that day.

A friend of Loveless’, Crystal Wathen, came over to Loveless’ house, and they told her what had happened. Then, the three girls drove to pick up Heavrin and bring her back to Loveless’ house, where they told Heavrin the story; although she did not believe it was true, Heavrin comforted the hysterical Loveless. Both Heavrin and Wathen became convinced when Tackett showed them the trunk of the car with Sharer’s bloody handprints and socks still there. Heavrin was horrified and asked to be taken home. When they pulled up in front of her house, Loveless kissed Heavrin and told her she loved her and pleaded her not to tell anyone. Heavrin promised she would not before entering her house.

Later on the morning of January 11, 1992, two brothers from Canaan, Indiana, were driving toward Jefferson Proving Ground to go hunting when they noticed a body on the side of the road. They called the police at 10:55 a.m. and were asked to return to the corpse. David Camm, who was later acquitted of his own family’s murders, was one of the responding officers. Jefferson County Sheriff Buck Shippley and detectives began an investigation, collecting forensic evidence at the scene. They initially suspected a drug deal gone wrong and could not believe the crime had been committed by locals.

Stephen Sharer noticed his daughter missing early on January 11. After phoning neighbors and friends all morning, he called his ex-wife, Shanda’s mother, at 1:45 p.m.; they met and filed a missing person report with the Clark County sheriff.

At 8:20 p.m., a hysterical Toni Lawrence went to the Jefferson County Sheriff’s office with her parents. She gave a rambling statement, identifying the victim as “Shanda”, naming the three other girls involved as best she could, and describing the main events of the previous night. Shippley contacted the Clark County sheriff and was finally able to match the body to Shanda Sharer’s missing person report.

Detectives obtained dental records that positively identified Shanda Sharer as the victim. Loveless and Tackett were arrested on January 12. The bulk of the evidence for the arrest warrant was Lawrence’s statement. The prosecution immediately declared its intention to try both suspects as adults. For several months, the prosecutors and defense attorneys did not release any information about the case, giving the news media only the statement by Lawrence.
Judicial process
Jefferson County Courthouse in Madison, Indiana
January 11, 1992     Body of Shanda Sharer found in rural Jefferson County, Indiana
April 22, 1992     Lawrence accepts plea bargain
September 21, 1992     Loveless and Tackett accept plea bargains
January 4, 1993     Loveless sentenced to 60 years
December 14, 2000     Lawrence released on parole
November 3, 2004     A judge reduces Rippey’s sentence to 35 years
April 28, 2006     Rippey released on parole

All four girls were charged as adults. To avoid the death penalty, the girls accepted plea bargains.
Mitigating factors

All four girls had troubled backgrounds with claims of physical or sexual abuse committed by a parent or other adult. Hope Rippey, Toni Lawrence, and Laurie Tackett had histories of self-harming behavior. Tackett was diagnosed with borderline personality disorder and suffering from hallucinations.

Melinda Loveless, often described as the ringleader in the attack, had the most extensive history of abuse and mental health issues.

In exchange for her cooperation, Lawrence was allowed to plead guilty to one count of Criminal Confinement and was sentenced to a maximum of 20 years.

Tackett and Loveless were sentenced to 60 years in the Indiana Women’s Prison in Indianapolis. With maximum time reduced for good behavior, they could be released in 2020.

Rippey was sentenced to 60 years, with ten years suspended for mitigating circumstances, plus ten years of medium-supervision probation. On appeals, a judge reduced the sentence to 35 years.

In October 2007, Loveless’ attorney, Mark Small, requested a hearing to argue for his client’s release. He said that Loveless had been “profoundly retarded” by childhood abuse. Moreover, she had not been represented competently by counsel during her sentencing, which caused her to accept a plea bargain in the face of exaggerated claims about her chances of receiving the death penalty. Small also argued that Loveless, who was 16 years old when she signed the plea agreement, was too young to enter into a contract in the state of Indiana without consent from a parent or guardian, which had not been obtained. If the judge accepted these arguments, Loveless could have been retried or released outright.

On January 8, 2008, Loveless’ request was rejected by Jefferson Circuit Judge Ted Todd. Instead, Loveless will be eligible for parole in 15 years, thus maintaining the original guilty plea.

On November 14, 2008, Loveless’ appeal was denied by the Indiana Court of Appeals, upholding Judge Todd’s ruling. Small stated that he would seek to have jurisdiction over the case moved to the Supreme Court of Indiana.

Both Loveless and Tackett are currently serving their original sentences. Given Indiana’s policy of reducing sentences by a day for every day served with good behavior, both women could possibly be released from prison in 2022, when Loveless is 46 and Tackett is 47 years old.

Toni Lawrence was released on December 14, 2000, after serving 9 years. She remained on parole until December 2002.

On April 28, 2006, Hope Rippey was released from Indiana Women’s Prison on parole after serving 14 years of her original sentence. She remained on supervised parole for 5 years.

During Melinda Loveless’ sentencing hearing, extensive open court testimony revealed that her father, Larry Loveless, had abused his wife, his daughters, and other children. Consequently, he was arrested in February 1993 on charges of rape, sodomy, and sexual battery. Most of the crimes occurred from 1968 to 1977. Loveless remained in prison for over two years awaiting trial; however, a judge eventually ruled that all charges except one count of sexual battery had to be dropped due to the statute of limitations, which was five years in Indiana. Loveless pleaded guilty to the one count of sexual battery. He received a sentence of time served and was released in June 1995.

A few weeks following his release, Loveless unsuccessfully sued the Floyd County Jail for $39 million in federal court, alleging he had suffered cruel and unusual punishment during his two-year incarceration. Among his complaints—he was not allowed to sleep in his bed during the day and he was not allowed to read the newspaper.

Shanda Sharer’s father, Stephen Sharer, died of alcoholism in 2005 at the age of 53. He was extremely depressed following the death of his daughter, and so, according to his wife, “drank himself to death”.

The Shanda Sharer Scholarship Fund was established in January 2009. The fund plans to provide scholarships to two students per year from Prosser School of Technology in New Albany; one scholarship will go to a student who is continuing his or her education, and the other scholarship will go to a student who is beginning his or her career and must buy tools or other work equipment. According to the rules of the fund, the scholarship recipient will also be given a plaque or document of some type that tells Shanda Sharer’s story.

In 2012, Shanda Sharer’s mother, Jacque Vaught, made her first contact with Melinda Loveless since the trials, although indirectly. Vaught donated a dog for Loveless to train for the Indiana Canine Assistance Network program (ICAN), which provides service pets to people with disabilities. Loveless has trained dogs for the program for several years. Vaught reported that she has endured criticism over the decision, but defends it saying, “It’s my choice to make. [Shanda]’s my child. If you don’t let good things come from bad things, nothing gets better. And I know what my child would want. My child would want this.” Vaught stated that she hopes to donate a dog every year in honor of Shanda.


SEAL Team Six


The United States Naval Special Warfare Development Group (NSWDG), or DEVGRU, is a U.S. Navy component of Joint Special Operations Command. It is often referred to as SEAL Team Six, the name of its predecessor which was officially disbanded in 1987. DEVGRU is administratively supported by Naval Special Warfare Command and operationally commanded by the Joint Special Operations Command. Most information concerning DEVGRU is classified and details of its activities are not usually commented on by either the White House or the Department of Defense. Despite the official name changes, “SEAL Team Six” remains the unit’s widely recognized moniker. It is sometimes referred to in the U.S. media as a Special Mission Unit.

DEVGRU and its Army counterpart, Delta Force, are the United States military’s primary counter-terrorism units. Although DEVGRU was created as a maritime counter-terrorism unit, it has become a multi-functional special operations unit with several roles that include high-risk personnel/hostage extractions and other specialized missions.

The Central Intelligence Agency’s highly secretive Special Activities Division (SAD) and more specifically its elite Special Operations Group (SOG) often works with—and recruits—operators from DEVGRU. The combination of these units led ultimately to the killing of Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Operation Neptune Spear.


The origins of DEVGRU are in SEAL Team Six, a unit created in the aftermath of Operation Eagle Claw. During the Iran hostage crisis in 1979, Richard Marcinko was one of two U.S. Navy representatives for a Joint Chiefs of Staff task force known as the TAT (Terrorist Action Team). The purpose of the TAT was to develop a plan to free the American hostages held in Iran. In the wake of the disaster at the Desert One base in Iran, the Navy saw the need for a full-time counter-terrorist unit, and tasked Marcinko with its design and development.

Marcinko was the first commanding officer of this new unit. At the time there were two SEAL teams. Marcinko named the unit SEAL Team Six in order to confuse Soviet intelligence as to the number of actual SEAL teams in existence. The unit’s plankowners were hand-picked by Marcinko from throughout the UDT/SEAL community. SEAL Team Six became the U.S. Navy’s premier counter-terrorist unit. It has been compared to the U.S. Army’s Delta Force. Marcinko held the command of SEAL Team Six for three years, from 1980 to 1983, instead of the typical two-year command in the Navy at the time. SEAL Team Six was formally created in October 1980, and an intense, progressive work-up training program made the unit mission-ready just six months later. SEAL Team Six started with 75 shooters. According to Dick Marcinko, the annual ammunition training allowance for the command was larger than that of the entire U.S. Marine Corps. The unit has virtually unlimited resources at its disposal.

In 1987 SEAL Team Six was dissolved. A new unit named the “Naval Special Warfare Development Group” was formed, essentially as SEAL Team Six’s successor. Reasons for the disbanding are varied, but the name SEAL Team Six is often used in reference to DEVGRU.
Operational deployments
Recruitment, selection and training

In the early stages of creating SEAL Team Six, Marcinko was given six months to get ST6 up and running, or the whole project would come to an end. This meant that there was a timing issue and Marcinko had little time to create a proper selection course, similar to that of Delta Force, and as a result hand-picked the first plankowners of the unit after assessing their Navy records and interviewing each man. It has been said that Marcinko regretted not having enough time to set up a proper selection process and course. All applicants came from the Underwater Demolition Teams (UDTs) and East and West Coast SEAL teams. Marcinko’s criteria for recruiting applicants was combat experience so he would know they could perform under fire; language skills were vital, as the unit would have a worldwide mandate to communicate with the local population if needed; union skills, to be able to blend in as civilians during an operation; and finally SEAL skills. Members of SEAL Team Six were selected in part because of the different specialist skills of each man.

Candidates must pass three-days of physical and psychological testing that includes a Physical Screening Test (PST) where candidates must exceed the minimum requirements and perform at their highest level possible. Candidates are then interviewed by an oral review board to deem whether the candidate is suitable to undertake the selection phase. Those who pass the stringent recruitment and selection process will be selected to attend a six- to eight-month Operators Training Course. Candidates will screen with the unit’s training wing known as “Green Team”. The training course attrition rate is high, usually around 50 percent; during one selection course, out of the original 20 candidates, 12 completed the course. All candidates are watched closely by DEVGRU instructors and evaluated on whether they are suitable to join the individual squadrons. Howard E. Wasdin, a former member of SEAL Team Six said in a recent interview that 16 applied for SEAL Team Six selection course and two were accepted. Those who do not pass the selection phase are returned to their previous assignments and are able to try again in the future.

Like all Special Operations Forces units that have an extremely intensive and high-risk training schedule, there can be serious injuries and deaths. SEAL Team Six/DEVGRU has lost several operators during training, including parachute accidents and close-quarters battle training accidents. It is presumed that the unit’s assessment process for potential new recruits is different from what a SEAL operator experienced in his previous career, and much of the training tests the candidate’s mental capacity rather than his physical condition, as he will have already completed Basic Underwater Demolitions/SEAL or the Navy EOD training pipeline.

Candidates are put through a variety of advanced training courses led by civilian or military instructors. These can include free-climbing, land warfare, communications, advanced unarmed combat techniques, defensive and offensive driving, advanced diving, and Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) training. All candidates must perform at the top level during selection, and the unit instructors evaluate the candidate during the training process. Selected candidates are assigned to one of the Tactical Development and Evaluation Squadrons; the others are returned to their previous units. Unlike the other regular SEAL Teams, SEAL Team Six operators were able to go to almost any of the best schools anywhere and train in whatever they wanted depending on the unit’s requirements.

DEVGRU is divided into color-coded line squadrons.

Gold Squadron (Assault Team)
Blue Squadron (Assault Team)
Silver Squadron (Assault Team)
Red Squadron (Assault Team)
Black Squadron (Reconnaissance & Surveillance Team)
Gray Squadron (Transportation/Divers)
Green Squadron (Selection/Training)

Each assault squadron is divided into three troops (commanded by lieutenant commanders) and these troops are divided into smaller teams. Each line squadron has a specific nickname. Examples being Gold-Knights, Red-Indians, Blue-Pirates.

Roles and responsibilities

When SEAL Team Six was first created it was devoted exclusively to counter-terrorism with a worldwide maritime responsibility; its objectives typically included targets such as ships, oil rigs, naval bases, coastal embassies, and other civilian or military bases that were accessible from the sea or inland waterways.

On certain operations small teams from SEAL Team Six were tasked with covertly infiltrating international high risk areas in order to carry out reconnaissance or security assessments of U.S. military facilities and embassies; and to give advice on improvements in order to prevent casualties in an event of a terrorist attack.

Although the unit was created as a maritime counter-terrorism unit, it has become a multi-functional special operations unit with multiple roles that include high-risk personnel/hostage extractions. Such operations include the successful rescue of Jessica Buchanan and Poul Hagen Thisted, the attempted rescue of Linda Norgrove, the successful rescue of American doctor Dilip Joseph and in 1991 the successful recovery of Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and his family during a coup that deposed him.

After SEAL Team Six was disbanded and renamed, the official mission of the currently operating Naval Special Warfare Development Group is to test, evaluate, and develop technology and maritime, ground, and airborne tactics applicable to Naval Special Warfare forces such as Navy SEALs; however, it is presumed this is a small part of the group’s work assignment and more of a cover.

DEVGRU’s full mission is classified but is thought to include pre-emptive, pro-active counter-terrorist operations, counter-proliferation (efforts to prevent the spread of both conventional weapons and weapons of mass destruction), as well as the elimination or recovery of high-value targets (HVTs) from unfriendly nations. DEVGRU is one of a handful of U.S. Special Mission Units authorized to use pre-emptive actions against terrorists and their facilities.

DEVGRU and the Army’s Delta Force train and deploy together on counter-terrorist missions usually as part of a joint special operations task force (JSOTF).

Albert Anastasia

Albert Anastasia

Albert Anastasia (born Umberto Anastasio, September 26, 1902 – October 25, 1957) was one of the most ruthless and feared Cosa Nostra mobsters in United States history. A founder of the Italian American Mafia, Anastasia ran Murder, Inc. during the prewar era and during most of the 1950s was boss of what would become the modern Gambino crime family. He is perhaps the most feared hit-man of the Italian American Mafia’s golden era, earning the infamous nicknames “the Mad Hatter” and “Lord High Executioner.”

Early years

Albert Anastasia was born on September 26, 1902, in Tropea, Calabria, Italy. His parents were Raffaelo Anastasio and Louisa Nomina de Filippi. The family name was “Anastasio”, but Albert started using “Anastasia” in 1921.

Raffaelo Anastasio was a railway worker who died after World War I, leaving behind nine sons and three daughters. Albert’s brothers included Salvatore, Frank, Joseph, Gerardo, and Anthony Anastasio. Anastasia was married to Elsa Barnesi; they had one son, Anthony Anastasia, Jr. They would have another son and two daughters.

In 1919, Anastasia and three of his brothers arrived in New York City, working on a freighter. Deserting the ship, the brothers illegally entered the United States. The boys soon started working as longshoremen on the Brooklyn waterfront.

On March 17, 1921, Anastasia was convicted of murdering longshoreman George Turino as the result of a quarrel. Anastasia was sentenced to death and sent to Sing Sing State Prison in Ossining, New York to await execution. Due to a legal technicality, however, Anastasia won a retrial in 1922. Because four of the original prosecution witnesses had disappeared in the meantime, Anastasia was released from custody in 1922.

On June 6, 1923, Anastasia was convicted of illegal possession of a firearm and sentenced to two years in city prison.
Rise to power

By the late 1920s, Anastasia had become a top leader of the International Longshoremen’s Association (ILA), controlling six union local chapters in Brooklyn. Anastasia allied himself with Giuseppe “Joe the Boss” Masseria, a powerful gang leader in Brooklyn. Anastasia soon became close associates with future Cosa Nostra bosses Joe Adonis, Charles “Lucky” Luciano, Vito Genovese, and Frank Costello.

In 1928, Anastasia was charged with a murder in Brooklyn, but the witnesses either disappeared or refused to testify in court.
Castellammarese War

In 1930, Luciano finalized his plans to take over the organized crime rackets in New York by destroying the two old-line Mafia factions headed by Masseria and Salvatore Maranzano. Luciano outlined his plot to Anastasia, who joined him and Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel in the plot. Anastasia assured Luciano that he would kill everyone for Luciano to reach the top. Anastasia knew that if Luciano ran the National Crime Syndicate, he would eventually get a “piece of the action.” By this point, Luciano had secretly given his support to Maranzano.

On April 15, 1931, Anastasia allegedly participated in Masseria’s murder. Luciano had lured Masseria to a meeting at a Coney Island, Brooklyn restaurant. During their meal, Luciano excused himself to go to the restroom. As soon as Luciano was gone, Anastasia, Vito Genovese, Joe Adonis, and Bugsy Siegel rushed into the dining room and shot Masseria to death. The war ended and Maranzano was the winner. No one was ever indicted in the Masseria murder. In Luciano’s subsequent reorganization of New York’s mafia into its current Five Families, Anastasia was appointed underboss of the crime family of Vincent Mangano, the modern Gambino crime family.

In September 1931, Maranzano was himself murdered and Luciano became the preeminent mobster in America. To avoid the power struggles and turf disputes that led to the Castellammarese War, Luciano established the National Crime Syndicate, consisting of the major family bosses from around the country and the so-called “five families” of New York. The Syndicate was meant to serve as a deliberative body to solve disputes, carve up and distribute territories, and regulate lucrative illegal activities such as racketeering, gambling, and bootlegging (which came to a close with the repeal of Prohibition in 1933). The Italian-American Mafia had their own body, known as the Commission.

In 1932, Anastasia was indicted on charges of murdering another man with an ice pick, but the case was dropped due to lack of witnesses.

In 1933, Anastasia was charged with killing a man who worked in a laundry; again, there were no witnesses willing to testify.
Murder, Incorporated

To reward Anastasia’s loyalty, Luciano placed him and Louis “Lepke” Buchalter, the nation’s leading labor racketeer, in control of the Syndicate’s enforcement arm, Murder, Inc. The troop, also known as “The Brownsville Boys”, was a group of Jewish and Italian killers that operated out of the back room of Midnight Rose’s, a candy store owned by mobster Louis Capone in the Brownsville neighborhood of Brooklyn. During its ten years of operation, it is estimated that Murder Inc. committed between 400 and 1000 murders, many of which were never solved. For his leadership in Murder, Inc., Anastasia was nicknamed the “Mad Hatter” and the “Lord High Executioner”. Unlike Lepke and many other members of Murder, Inc., Anastasia was never prosecuted for any of these murders. It is doubted by some that he even was involved, since as the underboss of a family, he had his own killers to use if needed. During this period, Anastasia’s business card claimed that he was a “sales representative” for the Convertible Mattress Corporation in Brooklyn.

On June 7, 1936, Luciano was convicted on 62 counts of compulsory prostitution.[8] On July 18, 1936, Luciano received a 30 to 50-year sentence in state prison.  Genovese became acting boss, but he was forced to flee to Italy in 1937 after being indicted on a 1934 murder. Frank Costello now became acting boss of the Luciano crime family.

In May 1939, Anastasia allegedly ordered the murder of Morris Diamond, an official of a trucking union in Brooklyn. Diamond was a Teamsters Union official who had opposed mobster Louis Buchalter’s attempts to maintain control of the Garment District in Manhattan. In the summer of 1939, Anastasia allegedly organized the murder of Peter Panto, an ILA activist. Panto had been leading a movement for democratic reforms in the ILA locals, and refused to be intimidated by ILA officials. On July 14, 1939, Panto disappeared; his body was later recovered on a farm in New Jersey.

With the 1941 arrest of Abe Reles on murder charges, law enforcement finally dismantled Murder, Inc. Reles was a gang leader from Brownsville, Brooklyn who had been supplying Anastasia and Murder, Inc. with hitmen for the past 10 years. Reles decided to testify for the government to save himself from the death penalty. His testimony convicted seven members of Murder Inc. Reles also had information that could implicate Anastasia in the 1939 Diamond and Panto murders. Fearful of prosecution, Anastasia offered a $100,000 reward for Reles’ murder.

On November 12, 1941, Reles was found dead on a restaurant roof outside the Half Moon Hotel in Coney Island. Reles was being guarded at a sixth floor room during an ongoing trial. In 1951, a grand jury ruled that Reles accidentally died while climbing down to the fifth floor using sheets tied to a heating radiator. However, many officials still suspected that Reles had been murdered.

In the spring of 1942, Anastasia allegedly ordered the murder of an associate, Anthony Romeo. Romeo had been arrested and questioned in the Panto killing. However at the end of June, Romeo’s body was discovered near Guyencourt, Delaware. Romeo had been beaten and shot multiple times.
World War II

During World War II, Anastasia reportedly originated the plan to win a pardon for Luciano by helping the war effort. With America needing allies in Sicily to advance the invasion of Italy, and the desire of the Navy to dedicate its resources to the war, Anastasia orchestrated a deal to obtain lighter treatment for Luciano while he was in prison, and after the war, a parole in exchange for the Mafia protecting the waterfront and Luciano’s assistance with his associates in Sicily.

In 1942, Anastasia joined the U.S. Army. He may have been motivated by a desire to escape the criminal investigations that were dismantling Murder Inc. Attaining the rank of technical sergeant, Anastasia trained soldiers to be longshoremen at Fort Indiantown Gap in Pennsylvania. In 1943, as a reward for his military service, Anastasia received U.S. citizenship. In 1944, Anastasia was honorably discharged from the Army and he moved his family to a mansion in Fort Lee, New Jersey. In 1958, less than a year after Anastasia’s death, comedian Buddy Hackett and his wife purchased the mansion, and after renovations they moved in and lived there through most of the 1960s.

In 1945, U.S. military authorities in Sicily returned Genovese to the United States to be tried for the 1934 Boccia murder. However, after the death of the main prosecution witness, all charges were dropped against Genovese. In 1946, New York Governor Thomas E. Dewey commuted Luciano’s sentence and the federal government immediately deported him to Italy.

In 1948, Anastasia bought a dress making factory in Hazleton, Pennsylvania and left his waterfront activities in the control of his brother Anthony.

In 1951, the U.S. Senate summoned Anastasia to answer questions about organized crime at the Kefauver Hearings. Anastasia refused to answer any questions.

Despite being a mob power in his own right, Anastasia was nominally the underboss of the Mangano crime family under boss Vincent Mangano. During his 20-year rule, Mangano had resented Anastasia’s close ties to Luciano and Costello. Mangano was particularly irked that Luciano and Costello obtained Anastasia’s services without first seeking Mangano’s permission. This and other business disputes led to heated, almost physical fights between the two mobsters. In early 1951, Vincent Mangano went missing and his body was never found. On April 19, 1951, the body of Philip Mangano, shot three times, was discovered in a wetland in Bergen Beach, Brooklyn. No one was ever arrested in the Mangano murders, but it was widely assumed that Anastasia had them killed.

After the deaths of the Mangano brothers, Anastasia, who had been serving as acting boss of the Mangano family, met with the Commission. Anastasia claimed that the Manganos wanted to kill him, but did not admit to killing them. With Costello’s prodding, the Commission confirmed Anastasia’s ascension as boss of the renamed Anastasia family. Costello wanted Anastasia as an ally against the ambitious and resentful Genovese. Anastasia was also supported by Joseph Bonanno, who simply wanted to avoid a gang war.

In March 1952, Anastasia allegedly ordered the murder of Arnold Schuster. Schuster was a young New York man who successfully identified fugitive bank robber Willie Sutton, resulting in Sutton’s arrest. When Anastasia saw Schuster being interviewed on television, he allegedly said: “I can’t stand squealers! Hit that guy!” On March 8, 1952, a gunman shot Schuster to death on a street in Borough Park, Brooklyn. This public accusation against Anastasia was made in 1963 by government witness Joseph Valachi, but many people in law enforcement were skeptical of it. No one was ever arrested in the Schuster murder.

On December 9, 1952, the Federal Government filed suit to denaturalize Anastasia and deport him because he lied on his citizenship application.

To take control of the Luciano family, Genovese needed to kill Frank Costello. However, Genovese could not kill Costello without also eliminating Anastasia. To do that, Genovese needed allies.

Vito Genovese used Anastasia’s brutal behavior against him in an effort to woo away his supporters, portraying Anastasia as an unstable killer who threatened to bring law enforcement pressure on the Cosa Nostra. In addition, Genovese pointed out that Anastasia had been selling memberships to his crime family for $50,000, a clear violation of Commission rules that infuriated many high level mobsters. According to Valachi, Anastasia had been losing large amounts of money betting on horse races, making him even more surly and unpredictable.

Over the next few years, Genovese secretly won the support of Anastasia capo Carlo Gambino, offering him the leadership of Anastasia’s family in return for his cooperation. Genovese also received tacit approval from Meyer Lansky. One of Luciano’s earliest associates, Lansky handled most of Luciano’s U.S. business interests. Lansky and Genovese were also business associates from the 1920s. Genovese could not kill Anastasia and Costello without Lansky’s support.

Anastasia’s greed soon drove Lansky to help Genovese. During the 1950s, Lansky controlled all the casino gambling in Cuba, offering the Cosa Nostra bosses lesser shares of his profits. When Anastasia demanded a larger share, Lansky refused. Anastasia then started his own casino racket in Cuba. While Lansky had preferred watching Anastasia and Genovese battle each other from the sidelines, Lansky now threw his active support to Genovese.

On May 23, 1955, Anastasia pleaded guilty to tax evasion for underreporting his income during the late 1940s. On June 3, 1955, Anastasia was sentenced to one year in federal prison and a $20,000 fine. After his conviction, the federal government successfully petitioned a federal court to revoke Anastasia’s citizenship so he could be deported. However, on September 19, 1955, a higher court overturned this ruling.

In early 1957, Genovese decided to move on Costello. On May 2, 1957, gunman Vincent Gigante shot and wounded Costello outside his apartment building. Although the wound was superficial, it persuaded Costello to relinquish power to Genovese and retire. Genovese now controlled what is now called the Genovese crime family. Joseph Bonanno would later credit himself with arranging a sitdown where he kept Anastasia from immediately taking Genovese to war in response.

On June 17 of that year Frank Scalice, Anastasia’s underboss and the man identified as directly responsible for selling Gambino memberships, was also assassinated. According to Joseph Valachi, Anastasia approved the hit, and the subsequent murder of Scalice’s brother Joseph after offering to forgive his threats to avenge Frank.

On the morning of October 25, 1957, Anastasia entered the barber shop of the Park Sheraton Hotel, at 56th Street and 7th Avenue in Midtown Manhattan. Anastasia’s driver parked the car in an underground garage and then took a walk outside, leaving Anastasia unprotected. As Anastasia relaxed in the barber chair, two men—scarves covering their faces—rushed in, shoved the barber out of the way, and fired at Anastasia. After the first volley of bullets, Anastasia allegedly lunged at his killers. However, the stunned Anastasia had actually attacked the gunmen’s reflections in the wall mirror of the barber shop. The gunmen continued firing and Albert Anastasia finally fell to the floor, dead.

The Anastasia murder generated a tremendous amount of public interest and sparked a high profile police investigation. Per New York Times journalist and Five Families author Selwyn Raab, “The vivid image of a helpless victim swathed in white towels was stamped in the public memory.” However, no one was charged in this case. Over time, speculation on who killed Anastasia has centered on Profaci crime family mobster Joe Gallo, the Patriarca crime family of Providence, Rhode Island, and certain drug dealers with the Gambino family.

Initially, the NYPD concluded that the Anastasia hit had been arranged by Genovese and Gambino, and it was carried out by a crew led by “Crazy Joe” Gallo of the Profaci family. At one point, Gallo boasted to an associate of his part in the hit:

“You can just call the five of us the barbershop quintet.”

However, detractors say that it was illogical for Profaci to kill Anastasia.  Profaci was allied with Bonanno and Anastasia on the Commission against Genovese, Costello, and Thomas Lucchese. By killing Anastasia, Profaci was eliminating an ally and gaining a potential enemy in Gambino.

The Patriarca theory is that Anastasia’s killers came from the Patriarca Family in Providence/Boston. Genovese had traditionally strong ties to Patriarca boss Raymond L.S. Patriarca. In addition, it made sense to use out-of-town hitmen. The Patriarca hit team was allegedly led by mobster John (Jackie) “Mad Dog” Nazarian.

The drug dealers theory is that Gambino used some Gambino drug dealers from the Lower East Side of Manhattan to kill Anastasia, including Stephen Armone, Stephen Grammauta, and Arnold Wittenberg.

Carlo Gambino was expected to be proclaimed boss of Anastasia’s family at the November 14, 1957 Apalachin Meeting, called by Genovese to discuss the future of Cosa Nostra in light of his takeover. When the meeting was raided by police, to the detriment of Genovese’s reputation, Gambino’s appointment was postponed to a later meeting in New York City. Under Gambino, Anthony Anastasio saw his power curtailed, and in frustration he began passing information to the FBI shortly before his 1963 death.

Genovese enjoyed a short reign as family boss. In 1957, after Genovese’s disastrous Apalachian Meeting, Lansky, Luciano, Costello, and Gambino conspired to entrap Genovese with a narcotics conviction, bribing a drug dealer to testify he had personally worked with Genovese. On July 7, 1958, Genovese was indicted on narcotics trafficking charges. On April 17, 1959, Genovese was sentenced to 15 years in state prison.

Anastasia’s funeral service was conducted at a Brooklyn funeral home; the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn had refused to sanction a church burial. Anastasia was interred in Green-Wood Cemetery in Greenwood Heights, Brooklyn, attended by a handful of friends and relatives.

Hans B. Schmidt


Hans B. Schmidt (1881 – February 18, 1916) was a German Roman Catholic priest convicted of murder, and the only priest to be executed in the United States.


Born in the Bavarian city of Aschaffenburg and ordained in Mainz in 1906, Schmidt immigrated to the United States in 1909 where he was assigned to St. John’s Parish in Louisville, Kentucky. There, a rift with another priest resulted in Schmidt’s transfer to St. Boniface Church in New York City.

While serving in New York, Schmidt met Anna Aumüller, the attractive housekeeper for the rectory who had recently emigrated from Austria. Despite his subsequent transfer to a church in a distant area of the city, Schmidt and Anna continued a secret sexual relationship. It was later revealed that they were married in a secret ceremony of dubious legality, which Schmidt performed himself.

After discovering that Anna was pregnant, Schmidt slashed her throat on the night of September 2, 1913, dismembered the body, and threw the pieces into the East River.
Trial and execution

Once the body was discovered, a police investigation led to Schmidt and he was arrested and charged with the murder. A media spectacle ensued, comparable to those caused by the Scott Peterson and Mark Hacking cases of a later era, as the New York papers competed against each other with an ever greater degree of sensationalism regarding the case. After feigning insanity during his first trial, which ended with a hung jury, Schmidt was eventually convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death in the electric chair. On February 18, 1916, Schmidt was executed at Sing Sing Prison; he remains the only priest executed for murder in the United States.
Other possible crimes

Apart from killing his young, pregnant “wife,” further investigation revealed that Schmidt had a second apartment where he had set up a counterfeiting workshop.

Authorities also suspected Schmidt of the murder of Alma Kellner, 9, whose body was found buried in the basement of St. John’s church in Louisville, Kentucky, where Schmidt had previously worked. The body had been burned, but authorities suspected the killer had initially tried to dismember her. The janitor, Joseph Wendling, was convicted and sentenced to life in prison for the murder based on circumstantial evidence and bloody clothing found at his house.

Avery Island


Avery Island (historically French: Île Petite Anse) is a salt dome best known as the source of Tabasco sauce. Located in Iberia Parish, Louisiana, United States, it is about three miles (5 km) inland from Vermilion Bay, which in turn opens onto the Gulf of Mexico. A small human population lives on the island.


The island was named after the Avery family, who settled there in the 1830s, but long before that, Native Americans had found that Avery Island’s verdant flora covered a precious natural resource—a massive salt dome. There, the Indians boiled the Island’s briny spring water to extract salt, which they traded to other tribes as far away as central Texas, Arkansas, and Ohio.

According to records maintained prior to 1999 in the Southern Historical Collection at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Petite Anse Island, renamed Avery Island in the late 19th century, was purchased by John Craig Marsh of New Jersey in 1818. Marsh operated a sugar plantation on the island’s fertile soil. His daughter, Sarah Craig Marsh, married Daniel Dudley Avery in 1837, thus uniting the Marsh and Avery families. Daniel Dudley Avery hailed from Baton Rouge, and was a jurist. In 1849, Daniel became co-owner of his in-law’s sugar plantation, and in 1855 he became sole owner.

During the American Civil War, a mine of pure rock salt was founded on Avery Island in May 1861, which subsequently produced more than 22 million pounds (10,000 metric tons) of salt for the Confederacy. According to the historian John D. Winters in his The Civil War in Louisiana (1963), the rock salt mine had been well-protected, until Union General Nathaniel P. Banks began a push up Bayou Teche. After an all-night march, Union Colonel W.K. Kimball, in Winters’ words, “advanced to the beautiful little island and, without opposition, burned eighteen buildings, smashed the steam engines and mining equipment, scattered six hundred barrels of salt awaiting shipping, and brought away a ton of gunpowder left behind by [Confederate General] Taylor’s men.

Before the Civil War, Edmund McIlhenny joined the Avery family, by wedding Mary Eliza Avery, daughter of Daniel Dudley Avery and Sarah Marsh Avery. In 1868, McIlhenny founded McIlhenny Company, and began manufacturing Tabasco brand pepper sauce. In 1870, he received letters patent for his sauce processing formula. That same basic process is still used today.

Avery Island was hit hard in September 2005 by Hurricane Rita. According to The New York Times, the family spent $5 million on constructing a 17-foot (5.2 m)-high levee, pumps, and back-up generators to ensure that future hurricanes will not disrupt Tabasco sauce production.
Bird sanctuary

Under the Avery/McIlhenny family’s management, Avery Island has remained a natural paradise, inhabited by many animal species, as well as by exotic plants from throughout the world. Edward Avery McIlhenny, or “Mr. Ned” as he was affectionately known, founded this bird colony—later called Bird City—around 1895 after plume hunters had slaughtered egrets by the thousands to provide feathers for ladies’ hats. Edward gathered eight young egrets, raised them in captivity on the Island, and released them in the fall to migrate across the Gulf of Mexico. The following spring the birds returned to the Island with others of their species, a migration that continues today.
Exotic plants

Edward McIlhenny introduced numerous varieties of azaleas, Japanese camellias, Egyptian papyrus sedge, and other rare plants to the Island’s natural landscape. When oil was discovered on the Island in 1942, he ensured that production crews bypassed live oak trees and buried pipelines (or painted them green) to preserve the Island’s beauty, wildlife, and utility as a wildlife refuge.


Avery Island is surrounded on all sides by bayous (slow-moving, muddy rivers), salt marsh, and swampland; it sits about 130 miles (225 km) west of New Orleans. The island was a sugar plantation formerly known as Petite Anse Island. (Petite Anse means “Little Cove” in Cajun French.) Access to the island is via toll road (technically, a very low toll bridge, which charges only on inbound traffic).

Avery Island is actually a huge dome of rock salt, three miles (5 km) long and two and a half miles (4 km) wide. It was created by the upwelling of ancient evaporite (salt) deposits that exist beneath the Mississippi River Delta region. These upwellings are known as “salt domes.” Avery Island is one of five salt dome islands that rise above the flat Louisiana Gulf coast.

At its highest point, the island is 163 feet (50 m) above mean sea level. It covers about 2,200 acres (8.9 km2) and is about 2.5 miles (4.0 km) across at its widest point.

Buster Keaton

circa 1925: American film comedian Buster Keaton (1895 - 1966).
circa 1925: American film comedian Buster Keaton (1895 – 1966).

Buster Keaton (born Joseph Frank Keaton, October 4, 1895 – February 1, 1966) was an American silent film comic actor and filmmaker. His trademark was physical comedy with a stoic, deadpan expression on his face, earning him the nickname “The Great Stone Face” (referencing the Nathaniel Hawthorne story about the “Old Man of the Mountain”).

His career as a performer and director is widely regarded to be among the most innovative and important work in the history of cinema. He was recognized as the seventh greatest director of all time by Entertainment Weekly. In his highly influential and groundbreaking book, The American Cinema: Directors and Directions, 1929-1968, leading film critic Andrew Sarris included Keaton in his Pantheon of American film directors.
Early life in vaudeville

Buster Keaton was born into the world of vaudeville. His father was Joseph Hallie Keaton, a native of Vigo County, Indiana, known in the show business world as Joe Keaton. Joe Keaton owned a traveling show with Harry Houdini called the Mohawk Indian Medicine Company, which performed on stage and sold patent medicine on the side. Joseph Frank Keaton was born on October 4, 1895 in Piqua, Kansas, the small town where his mother, Myra Edith Cutler, happened to go into labor.

The name “Buster” was acquired in his youth. Popular legend has it that one day before a vaudeville performance, a very young Keaton was walking down a flight of stairs, but tripped and fell down the entire flight and broke his nose. Keaton got right back up, and upon seeing this the famous magician Harry Houdini, who was in the performance, said to Keaton’s mother that he was “quite the little buster.” Although Houdini did tour with the Keatons, he did not join up with them until Buster Keaton was well beyond infancy. It is more likely that the nickname was given by a fellow vaudevillian whose name has been lost to history.

At the age of three, he began performing with his parents in The Three Keatons; the storyline of the act concerned how to raise a small child. Myra played the saxophone on one side while Joe and Buster performed on center stage. The young Keaton would goad his father by disobeying him, and the elder Keaton would respond by throwing him against the scenery, into the orchestra pit, or even into the audience. A suitcase handle was even sewn into Keaton’s clothing to aid with the constant tossing. The act evolved as Keaton learned to take trick falls safely. He was rarely injured or bruised on stage. Nevertheless, this knockabout style of comedy led to accusations of child abuse. Decades later, Keaton said that he was never abused by his father and that the falls and physical comedy were a matter of proper technical execution. In fact, Keaton would have so much fun, he would begin laughing as his father threw him across the stage. This drew fewer laughs from the audience, so he adopted his famous deadpan expression whenever he was working.

The act ran up against laws banning child performers in vaudeville. When one official saw Keaton in full costume and makeup, he asked a stagehand how old that performer was. The stagehand shrugged and pointed to the boy’s mother, saying “I don’t know, ask his wife!” Despite tangles with the law and a disastrous tour of English music halls, Keaton was a rising star in the theater, so much so that even when his parents tried to introduce the other children into the act, he remained the central attraction.

By the time Keaton was 21, his father’s alcoholism threatened the reputation of the family act, so he and his mother left Joe in Los Angeles. Keaton traveled to New York, where his performing career moved from vaudeville to film.

Although he did not see active combat, he served in World War I, during which time he lost some of his hearing.

In 1921, he married Natalie Talmadge, sister-in-law of his boss, Joseph Schenck, and sister of actresses Norma Talmadge and Constance Talmadge. During the first three years of the marriage, the couple had two sons, James (1922-2007) and Robert (1924-), but after the birth of Robert, the relationship began to suffer.

According to Keaton in his autobiography, Natalie turned him out of their bedroom and sent detectives to follow him to see who he was dating behind her back. She also spent enormous sums of money. During the early 1920s, as per his autobiography, he dated actress Kathleen Key, and upon ending the affair, Key flew into a rage, tearing up his dressing room. Not until 1932, did Natalie bitterly divorce Keaton, at which time the court awarded her custody of both sons and substantial financial support. She refused to allow any contact between Keaton and his sons, whose last name she had changed to Talmadge. Keaton was reunited with them about eight years later when the older son turned 18. The failure of his marriage, along with the loss of his independence as a filmmaker, led Keaton into a period of serious alcoholism.

In 1933, Keaton married his nurse Mae Scriven during an alcoholic binge about which he afterward claimed to remember nothing (Keaton himself later called that period an “alcoholic blackout”). Scriven herself would later claim that she didn’t even know Keaton’s real first name until after the marriage. When they divorced in 1936, the court awarded her half of everything they owned.

In 1940, Keaton married Eleanor Norris, who was 23 years his junior. She saved his life from his spiral of alcoholism and helped to salvage his career. All of their friends advised them against marrying, but the marriage lasted until his death. Between 1947 and 1954, they appeared regularly in the Cirque Medrano in Paris, in a highly-regarded double act. She came to know his routines so well that she often participated in them on TV revivals. She outlived him by 32 years, dying in 1998.

Keaton died of lung cancer on February 1, 1966, at the age of 70. Although he was diagnosed with the disease, he was never told that he was terminally ill. In a documentary on his career, his wife told Thames Television that Keaton played cards with friends the night before he died.
Silent film era

In February 1917, Keaton met Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle at the Talmadge Studios in New York City, where Arbuckle was under contract to Joseph M. Schenck. Joe Keaton disapproved of films, thinking them to be little more than a fad. Buster Keaton was also unsure of the medium. During his first meeting with Arbuckle, he asked to borrow one of the cameras to get a feel for how it worked. He promptly took the camera back to his hotel room, dismantled it, and reassembled it. With this rough understanding of the mechanics of the moving pictures, he returned the next day, camera in hand, asking for work. He was hired as a co-star and gag-man, making his first appearance in The Butcher Boy (1917). Keaton and Arbuckle became close friends. Keaton later claimed that he was soon Arbuckle’s second director and his entire gag department.

After Keaton’s successful work with Arbuckle, Schenck gave him his own production unit, Buster Keaton Studios. He made a series of two-reel comedies, including One Week (1920), Cops (1922), The Electric House (1922), and The Playhouse (1921). Based on the success of these shorts, Keaton moved to full-length features.

His most enduring feature-length films include Our Hospitality (1923), The Navigator (1924), Sherlock Jr. (1924), The Cameraman (1928), Steamboat Bill Jr. (1928), and The General (1927). This last film, set during the American Civil War, is considered his masterpiece, combining physical comedy with Keaton’s love for trains. Many of his most well-known films performed poorly at the box office at the time.

Years later, rival director Leo McCarey talked about the freewheeling days of making slapstick comedies: “All of us tried to steal each other’s gagmen. But we had no luck with Keaton, because he thought up his best gags himself and we couldn’t steal him!” Keaton also habitually performed his own stunts, sometimes at great physical risk; during the railroad watertank scene in Sherlock Jr., Keaton broke his neck and did not realize it until years afterwards.

In addition, the technical side of filmmaking fascinated him and he was forward thinking enough that, when they began to become technically practical and popular, he wanted to direct sound films. The fact that he had a good voice and years of stage experience promised an easier adjustment than Charlie Chaplin’s silent Tramp character, who could not survive sound. Keaton’s loss of independence as a filmmaker coincided with the coming of sound films and mounting personal problems, and his full potential in the early sound era was never realized.
Sound era and television

Keaton signed with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM) in 1928, a business decision that he would later call the worst of his life. He realized too late that the studio system MGM represented would prove to be a far more restrictive atmosphere than the freedom he had known previously, severely limiting his prior creative independence. From then on he would (for the first time) be forced to use a stunt double during some of his more dangerous scenes, as MGM wanted badly to protect its investment. He also stopped directing, but continued to perform and made some of his most financially successful films for the studio. MGM tried teaming the laconic Keaton with the rambunctious Jimmy Durante in a series of movies including The Passionate Plumber, Speak Easily, and What! No Beer? Although the two comedians never quite meshed as a team, the films proved popular.

What! No Beer? was Keaton’s last starring feature in America. Behind the scenes, Keaton’s world was in chaos, with divorce proceedings contributing to his alcoholism, which in turn caused production delays and unpleasant incidents at the studio. Keaton was so depleted during the filming of What! No Beer? that MGM released him from his contract, despite the film’s resounding success. In 1934 Keaton accepted an offer to make an independent film in Paris, Le Roi des Champs-Élysées. During this period he made one other film in Europe, The Invader (released in America as An Old Spanish Custom in 1936).

Upon his return to Hollywood, he made a screen comeback in a series of 16 two-reel comedies for Educational Pictures. Most of these are simple visual comedies, with many of the gags supplied by Keaton himself. The high point in the Educational series is Grand Slam Opera, featuring Buster in his own screenplay as an amateur-hour contestant. When the series lapsed in 1937, Keaton returned to MGM as a gag writer, particularly for Red Skelton and the Marx Brothers–including At the Circus (1939), and Go West (1940).

In 1939, Columbia Pictures hired Keaton to star in two-reel comedies; the series ran for two years. The director was usually Jules White, whose emphasis on slapstick made most of these films resemble White’s Three Stooges comedies. Keaton’s personal favorite of the ten Columbia films was directed not by White but by Mack Sennett veteran Del Lord: Pest from the West (1939), a two-reel remake of Keaton’s feature The Invader. Moviegoers and exhibitors welcomed Keaton’s Columbia comedies, which were successful enough to be re-released again and again through the 1960s.

Keaton’s personal life had stabilized with his 1940 marriage, and now he was taking life a little easier, abandoning Columbia for the less strenuous field of feature films. Throughout the 1940s Keaton played character roles in both “A” features and “B” films. Critics rediscovered Keaton in 1949 and producers hired him for bigger pictures. He guest-starred in such films as Sunset Boulevard (1950), Around the World in 80 Days (1956), It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963), and A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966). He appeared in Chaplin’s Limelight (1952), recalling the vaudeville of The Playhouse. Limelight was the only time in which the two giants of silent comedy would appear together on film.

Keaton had a successful series on Los Angeles television, The Buster Keaton Show (1950). An attempt to recreate the first series on film as Life with Buster Keaton (1951), which allowed it to be broadcast nationwide, was less well-received, although veteran actress Marcia Mae Jones and gagman Clyde Bruckman made contributions. A theatrical feature film, The Misadventures of Buster Keaton, was fashioned from the series. Keaton said he canceled the filmed series himself because he was unable to create enough fresh material to produce a new show each week.

Keaton also appeared on Ed Wynn’s variety show. At the age of 55, he successfully recreated one of the stunts of his youth, in which he propped one foot onto a table, then swung the second foot up next to it, and held the awkward position in midair for a moment before crashing to the stage floor. I’ve Got a Secret host Garry Moore recalled, “I asked (Keaton) how he did all those falls, and he said, ‘I’ll show you’. He opened his jacket and he was all bruised. So that’s how he did it – it hurt – but you had to care enough not to care.” At the age of 70, Keaton suggested a piece of physical comedy for his appearance in the 1965 movie Sergeant Deadhead, in which he ran past the end of a firehose into a six-foot-high flip and crash. When director Norman Taurog balked, expressing concerns for Keaton’s health, Keaton said, “I won’t hurt myself, Norm, I’ve done it for years!”

Keaton’s silent films saw a revival in the 1950s and 1960s. In 1961 he starred in The Twilight Zone episode “Once Upon a Time,” which included both silent and sound sequences. Keaton also found steady work as an actor in TV commercials, including a popular series of silent ads for Simon Pure Beer in which he revisited some of his favorite sight gags from his silent film days.

Keaton starred in a short film called The Railrodder [sic] (1965) [for the National Film Board of Canada. Wearing his traditional porkpie hat, he traveled from one end of Canada to the other on a motorized handcar, performing gags similar to those in films he made 50 years before. The film is also notable as Keaton’s last silent screen performance. The Railrodder was made in tandem with a behind-the-scenes documentary about Keaton’s life and times, called Buster Keaton Rides Again–also made for the National Film Board. He played the central role in Samuel Beckett’s Film (1965), directed by Alan Schneider. Keaton’s last film appearance was in the musical farce A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum (1966).

Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin and, to a lesser extent, Harold Lloyd are remembered as the greatest comic innovators of the silent film era. It should be noted that Chaplin’s films have always been more accessible than those of Keaton in both senses of that term: emotionally and artistically accessible to nearly everyone, as well as more widely available.

Keaton’s films have been more difficult to find and view than those of Chaplin. Many of them did not make much money at the box office, and many were lost for years until they were found again and restored in the 1960s. Although Chaplin has always been better known and his films more often seen, there are critics and commentators—the great Spanish director Luis Buñuel for one—who have preferred the work of Keaton to that of Chaplin. In the one scene in which they ever appeared together in any film, in Chaplin’s Limelight, Keaton succeeded in stealing the scene from Chaplin.

Although both were giants of silent film, there is a distinct difference in the tone and content of the films of Keaton and Chaplin. Chaplin’s films dealt primarily with human relations: The Tramp as a character found and created comedic situations as an interactor with and a foil for the foibles of other humans. Chaplin’s comedy was primarily a comedy of human interactions, and the films are frequently sentimental. Chaplin was the Tramp, an easily understood human clown. Keaton was a stoic dealing with an absurd universe.

Keaton’s comedy was that of a human, mostly alone, dealing with an absurd universe made up of recalcitrant and even perverse nature and machines. He produced an existential comedy of a human being dealing, in his stoic and stone-faced way, with the vagaries of wind, rain, water, and human artifacts—machines, boats, trains—that usually seem to conspire against him, but that he ultimately survives and overcomes, sometimes through Rube Goldberg-like constructions.

Keaton’s was a strongly physical-based comedy in which he did his own stunts. In a famous shot from Steamboat Bill Jr., for example, Keaton stands in a field next to a building. The entire wall of the building is blown down and collapses over him but Keaton is unscathed because he is standing in the exact spot where the single window of that wall of the building goes around him. Had Keaton missed that spot by just an inch or so, he would likely have been crushed by the falling wall, so exact planning as well as total faith in and commitment to the calculations of where he needed to stand to get the shot were necessary.

Keaton’s career as a performer and director is widely regarded to be among the most innovative and important work in the history of cinema. He was recognized as the seventh greatest director of all time by Entertainment Weekly and ranked twentieth in MovieMaker Magazine’s 2002 ranking of the 25 Most Influential Directors of All Time.

Keaton has two stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame: 6619 Hollywood Boulevard (for motion pictures); and 6321 Hollywood Boulevard (for television). In 1994, his image appeared on a United States postage stamp designed by caricaturist Al Hirschfeld.

A 1957 bio-pic The Buster Keaton Story, starring Donald O’Connor as Keaton, was based on his life but contained many errors of fact and merged his three wives into one character. The 1987 documentary Buster Keaton: A Hard Act to Follow, which won two Emmy Awards, is considered a much more accurate telling of Keaton’s story.



Thayendanegea or Joseph Brant (March 1743 – November 24, 1807) was a Mohawk military and political leader, based in present-day New York, who was closely associated with Great Britain during and after the American Revolution. Perhaps the American Indian of his generation best known to the Americans and British, he met many of the most significant Anglo-American people of the age, including both George Washington and King George III.

While not born into a hereditary leadership role within the Iroquois League, Brant rose to prominence due to his education, abilities and his connections to British officials. His sister, Molly Brant, was the consort of Sir William Johnson, the influential British Superintendent of Indian Affairs in the province of New York. During the American Revolutionary War, Brant led Mohawk and colonial Loyalists against the rebels in a bitter partisan war on the New York frontier. He was accused by the Americans of committing atrocities and given the name “Monster Brant”, but the charges were later found to be false.  After the war, he relocated with most of his people to Canada to the Six Nations Reserve, where he remained a prominent leader.

Early years

Joseph was born in 1743, probably in April, in the Ohio Country somewhere along the Cuyahoga River. This was during the hunting season when the Mohawk traveled to the area. He was named Thayendanegea, which in the Mohawk language can mean “two wagers (sticks) bound together for strength”, or possibly “he who places two bets.” As the Mohawk were a matrilineal culture, he was born into his mother’s Wolf Clan. Anglican Church records at Fort Hunter, New York, noted that his parents were Christians and their names were Peter and Margaret Tehonwaghkwangearahkwa. His father died when Joseph was born.

After his father’s death, his mother Margaret (Owandah), the niece of Tiaogeara, a Caughnawaga sachem, returned to the province of New York from Ohio with Joseph and his sister Mary (also known as Molly). They settled in Canajoharie, a Mohawk village on the Mohawk River, where they had lived before.

On September 9, 1753 his mother married again, to a widower named Brant (Canagaraduncka), a Mohawk sachem. Her new husband’s family had ties with the British; his grandfather Sagayendwarahton (Old Smoke) was one of the Four Mohawk Kings to visit England in 1710. The marriage bettered Margaret’s fortunes, and the family lived in the best house in Canajoharie. Her new alliance conferred little status on her children as Mohawk titles and leadership positions descended through the female line.

Canagaraduncka was a friend of William Johnson, the influential and wealthy British Superintendent for Northern Indian Affairs, who had been knighted for his service. During Johnson’s frequent visits to the Mohawk, he always stayed at the Brants’ house. Brant’s half-sister Molly established a relationship with Johnson, who was a highly successful trader and landowner. His mansion Johnson Hall impressed the young Brant so much that he decided to stay with Molly and Johnson. Johnson took an interest in the youth and supported his English-style education, as well as introducing him to influential leaders in the New York colony.
Seven Years War and education

Starting at about age 18 during the French and Indian War (part of the Seven Years War), Brant took part with Mohawk and other Iroquois allies in a number of British actions against the French in Canada: James Abercrombie’s 1758 expedition via Lake George that ended in utter defeat at Fort Carillon; Johnson’s 1759 Battle of Fort Niagara; and Jeffery Amherst’s 1760 expedition to Montreal via the St. Lawrence River. He was one of 182 Native American warriors awarded a silver medal from the British for his service.

In 1761, Johnson arranged for three Mohawk, including Brant, to be educated at Eleazar Wheelock’s “Moor’s Indian Charity School” in Connecticut. This was the forerunner of Dartmouth College, which was later established in New Hampshire. Brant studied under the guidance of Wheelock, who wrote that the youth was “of a sprightly genius, a manly and gentle deportment, and of a modest, courteous and benevolent temper.” Brant learned to speak, read, and write English, as well as studying other academic subjects. He met Samuel Kirkland at the school, later a missionary to Indians in western New York. In 1763, Johnson prepared for Brant to attend King’s College in New York City. The outbreak of Pontiac’s Rebellion upset his plans, and Brant returned home to avoid hostility toward Native Americans. After Pontiac’s rebellion, Johnson did not think it safe for Brant to return to King’s College.

In March 1764, Brant participated in one of the Iroquois war parties that attacked Lenape villages in the Susquehanna and Chemung valleys. They destroyed three good-sized towns, burning 130 houses and killing the cattle. No enemy warriors were seen. The Algonquian-speaking Lenape and Iroquois belonged to two different language families; they were traditional competitors and often warred at their frontiers.
Marriages and family

On July 22, 1765, in Canajoharie, Brant married Peggie (also known as Margaret). Said to be the daughter of Virginia planters, Peggie had been taken captive when young by Native Americans. After becoming assimilated with midwestern Indians, she was sent to the Mohawk. They lived with his parents, who passed the house on to Brant after his stepfather’s death. He also owned a large and fertile farm of 80 acres (320,000 m2) near the village of Canajoharie on the south shore of the Mohawk River; this village was also known as the Upper Mohawk Castle. Brant and Peggie raised corn, and kept cattle, sheep, horses, and hogs. He also kept a small store. Brant dressed in “the English mode” wearing “a suit of blue broad cloth.”

Peggie and Brant had two children together, Isaac and Christine, before Peggie died from tuberculosis in March 1771. After attacking his father in a fight, Isaac died as a young man of a wound.  Brant married a second wife, Susanna, but she died near the end of 1777 during the American Revolutionary War, when they were staying at Fort Niagara.

While still based at Fort Niagara, Brant started living with Catherine Adonwentishon Croghan, whom he married in the winter of 1780. She was the daughter of Catharine (Tekarihoga), a Mohawk, and George Croghan, the prominent Irish colonist and British Indian agent, deputy to William Johnson, Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the Northern District. Through her mother, Adonwentishon became clan mother of the Turtle clan, the first in rank in the Mohawk Nation. The Mohawk had a matrilineal kinship system, with inheritance and descent through the maternal line. As the clan matriarch, Adonwentishon had the birth right of naming the Tekarihoga, the principal hereditary sachem of the Mohawk who would come from her clan. Through his marriage to Catherine, Brant also became connected to John Smoke Johnson, a Mohawk grandson of Sir William Johnson and relative of Chief Hendrick.

With Catherine Croghan, Brant had seven children: Joseph, Jacob (1786–1847), John (selected by Catherine as Tekarihoga at the appropriate time; he never married), Margaret, Catherine,[8] Mary, and Elizabeth (who married William Johnson Kerr, grandson of Sir William Johnson and Molly Brant; their son later became a chief among the Mohawk).

With Johnson’s encouragement, the Mohawk named Brant as a war chief and their primary spokesman. In the spring of 1772, Brant moved to Fort Hunter to stay with the Reverend John Stuart. He became Stuart’s interpreter and teacher of Mohawk, collaborating with him to translate the Anglican catechism and the Gospel of Mark into the Mohawk language. His interest in translating Christian texts had begun during his early education. At Moor’s Charity School for Indians, he did many translations. Brant became Anglican, a faith he held for the remainder of his life.

Aside from being fluent in English, Brant spoke at least three, and possibly all, of the Six Nations’ Iroquoian languages. From 1766 on, he worked as an interpreter for the British Indian Department.
American Revolution

In 1775, he was appointed departmental secretary with the rank of Captain for the new British Superintendent’s Mohawk warriors from Canajoharie. When Loyalists were threatened after the war broke out in April 1775, Brant moved to the Province of Quebec, arriving in Montreal on July 17. His wife and children went to Onoquaga in south central New York, a Tuscarora Iroquois village along the Susquehanna River, the site of present-day Windsor.

On 11 November 1775, Guy Johnson took Brant with him to London to solicit more support from the government. They hoped to persuade the Crown to address past Mohawk land grievances in exchange for their participation as allies in the impending war. The British government promised the Iroquois people land in Quebec if the Iroquois nations would fight on the British side in what was shaping up as open rebellion by the American colonists. In London, Brant was treated as a celebrity and was interviewed for publication by James Boswell. He was received by King George III at St. James’s Palace. While in public, he dressed in traditional Mohawk attire. He was accepted as a Mason and received his ritual apron personally from King George.

Brant returned to Staten Island, New York in July 1776. He participated with Howe’s forces as they prepared to retake New York. Although the details of his service that summer and fall were not officially recorded, Brant was said to have distinguished himself for bravery. He was thought to be with Clinton, Cornwallis, and Percy in the flanking movement at Jamaica Pass in the Battle of Long Island in August 1776. He became lifelong friends with Lord Percy, later Duke of Northumberland, in what was his only lasting friendship with a white man.

In November, Brant left New York City and traveled northwest through Patriot-held territory. Disguised, traveling at night and sleeping during the day, he reached Onoquaga, where he rejoined his family. At the end of December, he was at Fort Niagara. He traveled from village to village in the confederacy, urging the Iroquois to enter the war as British allies. Many Iroquois balked at Brant’s plans. Joseph Louis Cook, a Mohawk leader who supported the rebel American colonists, became a lifelong enemy of Brant’s.

The full council of the Six Nations had previously decided on a policy of neutrality at Albany in 1775. They considered Brant a minor war chief and the Mohawk a relatively weak people.

Frustrated, Brant returned to Onoquaga in the spring to recruit independent warriors. Few Onoquaga villagers joined him, but in May he was successful in recruiting Loyalists who wished to retaliate against the rebels. This group became known as Brant’s Volunteers. In June, he led them to Unadilla to obtain supplies. There he was confronted by 380 men of the Tryon County militia led by Nicholas Herkimer. Herkimer requested that the Iroquois remain neutral but Brant responded that the Indians owed their loyalty to the King. They hoped to evict the European settlers from their territory.
Northern campaign

In July 1777 the Six Nations council decided to abandon neutrality and enter the war on the British side. Four of the six nations chose this route, and some members of the Oneida and Tuscarora, who otherwise allied with the rebels. Brant was not present. Sayenqueraghta and Cornplanter were named as the war chiefs of the confederacy. The Mohawk had earlier made Brant one of their war chiefs; they also selected John Deseronto.

In July, Brant led his Volunteers north to link up with Barry St. Leger at Fort Oswego. St. Leger’s plan was to travel downriver, east in the Mohawk River valley, to Albany, where he would meet the army of John Burgoyne, who was coming from Lake Champlain and the upper Hudson River. St. Leger’s expedition ground to a halt with the Siege of Fort Stanwix. Brant played a major role in the Battle of Oriskany, where a Patriot relief expedition was stopped. St. Leger was eventually forced to lift the siege, and Brant traveled to Burgoyne’s main army to inform him. Burgoyne restricted participation by native warriors, so Brant departed for Fort Niagara, where his family joined him and he spent the winter planning the next year’s campaign. His wife Susanna likely died at Fort Niagara that winter. (Burgoyne’s campaign ended with his surrender to the Patriots after the Battles of Saratoga.)

In April 1778, Brant returned to Onoquaga. He became one of the most active partisan leaders in the frontier war. He and his Volunteers raided rebel settlements throughout the Mohawk Valley, stealing their cattle, burning their houses, and killing many. On May 30, he led an attack on Cobleskill and in September, along with Captain William Caldwell, he led a mixed force of Indians and Loyalists in a raid on German Flatts. In the Battle of Wyoming in July, the Seneca were accused of slaughtering noncombatant civilians. Although Brant was suspected of being involved, he did not participate in that battle.

In October 1778, Continental soldiers and local militia attacked Brant’s home base at Onaquaga while his Volunteers were away on a raid. The soldiers burned the houses, killed the cattle, chopped down the apple trees, spoiled the growing corn crop, and killed some native children found in the corn fields. The American commander later described Onaquaga as “the finest Indian town I ever saw; on both sides [of] the river there was about 40 good houses, square logs, shingles & stone chimneys, good floors, glass windows.” In November 1778, Brant joined his Mohawk forces with those led by Walter Butler in the Cherry Valley massacre.

Butler’s forces were composed primarily of Seneca angered by the rebel raids on Onaquaga, Unadilla, and Tioga, and by accusations of atrocities during the Battle of Wyoming. The force rampaged through Cherry Valley, a community in which Brant knew several people. He tried to restrain the attack, but more than 30 noncombatants were reported slain in the attack.

The Patriot Americans believed that Brant had commanded the Wyoming Valley massacre of 1778, and also considered him responsible for the Cherry Valley massacre. At the time, frontier rebels called him “the Monster Brant”, and stories of his massacres and atrocities were widely propagated. The violence of the frontier warfare added to the rebel Americans’ hatred of the Iroquois and soured relations for 50 years. While the colonists called the Indian killings “massacres”, they considered their own forces’ widespread destruction of Indian villages and populations simply as part of the partisan war, but the Iroquois equally grieved for their losses. Long after the war, hostility to Brant remained high in the Mohawk Valley; in 1797, the governor of New York provided an armed bodyguard for Brant’s travels through the state because of threats against him.

Some historians have argued that Brant had been a force for restraint during the campaign in the Mohawk Valley. They have discovered occasions when he displayed compassion, especially towards women, children, and non-combatants. Colonel Ichabod Alden said that he “should much rather fall into the hands of Brant than either of them [Loyalists and Tories].” But, Allan W. Eckert asserts that Brant pursued and killed Alden as the colonel fled to the Continental stockade during the Cherry Valley attack.

Lt. Col. William Stacy of the Continental Army was the highest-ranking officer captured by Brant and his allies during the Cherry Valley massacre. Several contemporary accounts tell of the Iroquois stripping Stacy and tying him to a stake, in preparation for what was ritual torture and execution of enemy warriors by Iroquois custom. Brant intervened and spared him. Some accounts say that Stacy was a Freemason and appealed to Brant on that basis, gaining his intervention for a fellow Mason. Eckert, a historian and historical novelist, speculates that the Stacy incident is “more romance than fact”, though he provides no documentary evidence.
Commissioned as officer, 1779

In February 1779, Brant traveled to Montreal to meet with Frederick Haldimand, the military commander and Governor of Quebec. Haldimand commissioned Brant as Captain of the Northern Confederated Indians. He also promised provisions, but no pay, for his Volunteers. Assuming victory, Haldimand pledged that after the war ended, the British government would restore the Mohawk to their lands as stated before the conflict started. Those conditions were included in the Proclamation of 1763, the Treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1768, and the Quebec Act in June 1774.

In May, Brant returned to Fort Niagara where, with his new salary and plunder from his raids, he acquired a farm on the Niagara River, six miles (10 km) from the fort. To work the farm and to serve the household, he used slaves captured during his raids. Brant also bought a slave, a seven-year-old African-American girl named Sophia Burthen Pooley. She served him and his family for many years before he sold her to an Englishman for $100.  He built a small chapel for the Indians who started living nearby. There he also married for a third time, to Catherine Croghan (as noted above in Marriage section).

Brant’s honors and gifts caused jealousy among rival chiefs, in particular the Seneca war chief Sayenqueraghta. A British general said that Brant “would be much happier and would have more weight with the Indians, which he in some measure forfeits by their knowing that he receives pay.” In late 1779, after receiving a colonel’s commission for Brant from Lord Germain, Haldimand decided to hold it without informing Brant.

In early July 1779, the British learned of plans for a major American expedition into Iroquois Seneca country. To disrupt the Americans’ plans, John Butler sent Brant and his Volunteers on a quest for provisions and to gather intelligence in the upper Delaware River valley near Minisink, New York. After stopping at Onaquaga, Brant attacked and defeated American militia at the Battle of Minisink on July 22, 1779. Brant’s raid failed to disrupt the Continental Army’s plans, however.

In the Sullivan Expedition, the Continental Army sent a large force deep into Iroquois territory to attack the warriors and, as importantly, destroy their villages, crops and food stores. Brant and the Iroquois were defeated on August 29, 1779 at the Battle of Newtown, the only major conflict of the expedition. Sullivan’s Continentals swept away all Iroquois resistance in New York, burned their villages, and forced the Iroquois to fall back to Fort Niagara. Brant wintered at Fort Niagara in 1779–80.
Wounded and service in Detroit area, 1780–83

In early 1780, Brant resumed small-scale attacks on American troops and Colonial settlers the Mohawk Valley. In February 1780, he and his party set out, and in April attacked Harpersfield. In mid-July 1780 Brant attacked the Oneida village of Kanonwalohale, as many of the nation fought as allies of the American colonists. Brant’s raiders destroyed the Oneida houses, horses, and crops. Some of the Oneida surrendered, but most took refuge at Fort Stanwix.

Traveling east, Brant’s forces tracked towns on both sides of the Mohawk River: Canajoharie on the south and Fort Plank. He burned his former hometown of Canajoharie because it had been re-occupied by American settlers. On the raiders’ return up the valley, they divided into smaller parties, attacking Schoharie, Cherry Valley, and German Flatts. Joining with Butler’s Rangers and the King’s Royal Regiment of New York, Brant’s forces were part of a third major raid on the Mohawk Valley, where they destroyed settlers’ homes and crops. Brant was wounded in the heel at the Battle of Klock’s Field.

In April 1781, Brant was sent west to Fort Detroit to help defend against Virginian George Rogers Clark’s expedition into the Ohio Country. In August 1781, Brant soundly defeated a detachment of Clark’s force, ending the American threat to Detroit. He was wounded in the leg and spent the winter 1781–82 at the fort. During 1781 and 1782, Brant tried to keep the disaffected western Iroquois nations loyal to the Crown before and after the British surrendered at Yorktown in October 1781.

In June 1782, Brant and his Indians went to Fort Oswego, where they helped rebuild the fort. In July 1782, he and 460 Iroquois raided forts Herkimer and Dayton, but they did not cause much serious damage. Sometime during the raid, he received a letter from Governor Haldimand, announcing peace negotiations, recalling the war party and ordering a cessation of hostilities. Brant denounced the British “no offensive war” policy as a betrayal of the Iroquois and urged the Indians to continue the war, but they were unable to do so without British supplies.

Other events in the New World and Europe as well as changes in the British government had brought reconsideration of British national interest on the American continent. The new governments recognized their priority to get Britain out of its four interconnected wars, and time might be short. Through a long and involved process between March and the end of November 1782, the preliminary peace treaty between Great Britain and America would be made; it would become public knowledge following its approval by the Congress of the Confederation on April 15, 1783. Nearly another year would pass before the other foreign parties to the conflict signed treaties on September 3, 1783, with that being ratified by Congress on January 14, 1784, and formally ending the American Revolutionary War.
After the war

In ending the conflict with the Treaty of Paris (1783), both Britain and the United States ignored the sovereignty of the Indians. Britain had accepted the American demand that the boundary with British Canada should revert to its location after the Seven Years’ War with France in 1763, and not the revisions of the Quebec Act as war with the colonists approached. The difference between the two lines was the whole area south of the Great lakes, north of the Ohio River and east of the Mississippi, in which the Six Nations and western Indian tribes were previously accepted as sovereign. For the Americans, the area would become the Northwest Territory from which six-and-a-half new States would later emerge. While British promises of protection of the Iroquois domain had been an important factor in the Six Nations’ decision to ally with the British, they were bitterly disappointed when Britain ceded it and regarded it as territory of the new United States. Just weeks after the final treaty signing, the American Congress on September 22, stated its vision of these Indian lands with the Confederation Congress Proclamation of 1783; it prohibited the extinguishment of aboriginal title in the United States without the consent of the federal government, and was derived from the policy of the British Proclamation of 1763.

In 1783, Brant consulted with Governor Haldimand on Indian land issues and in late summer of 1783, Brant traveled west and helped initiate the formation of the Western Confederacy. In August and September he was present at unity meetings in the Detroit area, and on September 7 at Lower Sandusky, Ohio, was a principal speaker at an Indian council attended by Wyandots, Delawares, Shawnees, Cherokees, Ojibwas, Ottawas, and Mingos. The Iroquois and 29 other Indian nations agreed to defend the 1768 Fort Stanwix Treaty boundary line with European settlers by denying any Indian nation the ability to cede any land without common consent of all.

Brant was at Fort Stanwix from late August into September for initial peace negotiations between the Six Nations and New York State officials, but he did not attend later treaty negotiations held there with the commissioners of the Continental Congress in October. Brant expressed extreme indignation on learning that the commissioners had detained as hostages several prominent Six Nations leaders and delayed his intended trip to England attempting to secure their release. The Treaty of Fort Stanwix (1784) was signed on October 22, to serve as a peace treaty between the Americans and the Iroquois, but it forced the cession of most Iroquois land, as well as greater lands of other tribes to the west and south. Some reservations were established for the Oneida and Onondaga, who had been allies of the American rebels.

With Brant’s urging and three days later, Haldimand proclaimed a grant of land for a Mohawk reserve on the Grand River in present-day Ontario on October 25, 1784. Later in the fall, at a council at Buffalo Creek, the clan matrons decided that the Six Nations should divide, with half going to the Haldimand grant and the other half staying in New York. Brant built his own house at Brant’s Town which was described as “a handsome two story house, built after the manner of the white people. Compared with the other houses, it may be called a palace.” He had about twenty white and black servants and slaves. Brant thought the government made too much over the keeping of slaves, as captives were used for servants in Indian practice. He had a good farm of mixed crops and also kept cattle, sheep, and hogs.

In November 1785, Brant traveled to London to ask King George III for assistance in defending the Indian confederacy from attack by the Americans. The government granted Brant a generous pension and agreed to fully compensate the Mohawk for their losses, but they did not promise to support the confederacy. (In contrast to the settlement which the Mohawk received, Loyalists were compensated for only a fraction of their property losses.) He also took a diplomatic trip to Paris, returning to Quebec City in June 1786. In December 1786 Brant, along with leaders of the Shawnee, Delaware, Miami, Wyandot, Ojibwa, Ottawa, and Potawatomi nations, met at the Wyandot village of Brownstown and renewed the wartime confederacy in the West by issuing a statement to the American government declaring the Ohio River as the boundary between them and the whites. Nevertheless, despite Brant’s efforts to produce an agreement favorable to the Brownstown confederacy and to British interests, he also would be willing to compromise later with the United States.

In 1790, after Americans attacked the Western Confederacy in the Northwest Indian War, member tribes asked Brant and the Six Nations to enter the war on their side. Brant refused; he instead asked Lord Dorchester, the new governor of Quebec, for British assistance. Dorchester also refused, but later in 1794, he did provide the Indians with arms and provisions.

In 1792, the American government invited Brant to Philadelphia, then capital of the United States, where he met President George Washington and his cabinet. The Americans offered him a large pension, and a reservation in upstate New York for the Mohawks to try to lure them back. Brant refused, but Pickering said that Brant did take some cash payments. George Washington told Henry Knox in 1794 “to buy Captain Brant off at almost any price.” Brant attempted a compromise peace settlement between the Western Confederacy and the Americans, but he failed. The war continued, and the Indians were defeated in 1794 at the Battle of Fallen Timbers. The unity of the Western Confederacy was broken with the peace Treaty of Greenville in 1795.

In early 1797, Brant traveled again to Philadelphia to meet the British diplomat Robert Liston and United States government officials. In a speech to Congress, Brant assured the Americans that he would “never again take up the tomahawk against the United States.” At this time the British were at war with France and Spain. While in Philadelphia, Brant also met with the French diplomat Pierre August Adet where he stated: “[H]e would offer his services to the French Minister Adet, and march his Mohawks to assist in effecting a revolution and overturning the British government in the province.” When Brant returned home, there were fears of a French attack. Russell wrote: “the present alarming aspect of affairs — when we are threatened with an invasion by the French and Spaniards from the Mississippi, and the information we have received of emissaries being dispersed among the Indian tribes to incite them to take up the hatchet against the King’s subjects.” He also wrote that Brant “only seeks a feasible excuse for joining the French, should they invade this province.” London ordered Russell to prohibit the Indians from alienating their land. With the prospects of war to appease Brant, Russell confirmed Brant’s land sales. Brant then declared: “[T]hey would now all fight for the King to the last drop of their blood.”

In late 1800 and early 1801 Brant wrote to New York Governor George Clinton to secure a large tract of land near Sandusky, Ohio which could serve as a refuge. He planned its use for the Grand River Indians if they suffered defeat. In September 1801, Brant was reported as saying: “He says he will go away, yet the Grand River Lands will [still] be in his hands, that no man shall meddle with it amongst us. He says the British Government shall not get it, but the Americans shall and will have it, the Grand River Lands, because the war is very close to break out.” In January 1802, the Executive Council of Upper Canada learned of this plot, led by Aaron Burr and George Clinton, to overthrow British rule and to create a republican state to join the United States. September 1802, the planned date of invasion, passed uneventfully and the plot evaporated.

Brant bought about 3,500 acres (14 km2) from the Mississauga Indians at the head of Burlington Bay. Upper Canada’s Lieutenant Governor, John Graves Simcoe, would not allow such a sale between Indians, so he bought this tract of land from the Mississauga and gave it to Brant. Around 1802, Brant moved there and built a mansion that was intended to be a half-scale version of Johnson Hall. He had a prosperous farm in the colonial style with 100 acres (0.40 km2) of crops.


Joseph Brant died in his house at the head of Lake Ontario (site of what would become the city of Burlington, Ontario) on November 24, 1807 at age 64 after a short illness. His last words, spoken to his adopted nephew John Norton, reflect his lifelong commitment to his people: “Have pity on the poor Indians. If you have any influence with the great, endeavor to use it for their good.”

In 1850, his remains were carried 34 miles (55 km) in relays on the shoulders of young men of Grand River to a tomb at Her Majesty’s Chapel of the Mohawks in Brantford.

Brant acted as a tireless negotiator for the Six Nations to control their land without Crown oversight or control. He used British fears of his dealings with the Americans and the French to extract concessions. His conflicts with British administrators in Canada regarding tribal land claims were exacerbated by his relations with the American leaders.

Brant was a war chief, and not a hereditary Mohawk sachem. His decisions could and were sometimes overruled by the sachems and clan matrons. However, his natural ability, his early education, and the connections he was able to form made him one of the great leaders of his people and of his time.

The situation of the Six Nations on the Grand River was better than that of the Iroquois who remained in New York. His lifelong mission was to help the Indian to survive the transition from one culture to another, transcending the political, social and economic challenges of one of the most volatile, dynamic periods of American history. He put his loyalty to the Six Nations before loyalty to the British. His life cannot be summed up in terms of success or failure, although he had known both. More than anything, Brant’s life was marked by frustration and struggle.

His attempt to create pan-tribal unity proved unsuccessful, though his efforts would be taken up a generation later by the Shawnee leader Tecumseh.
Legacy and honors

During his lifetime, Brant was the subject of many portrait artists. Two in particular signify his place in American, Canadian, and British history:

George Romney’s portrait, painted during Brant’s first trip to England in 1775–76, hangs in the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa.

The Joseph Brant Museum was constructed c. 1800 on land Brant once owned. An Ontario Historical Plaque was erected by the province to commemorate the Brant House’s role in Ontario’s heritage. His first house in Burlington was demolished in 1932.

The City of Brantford and the County of Brant, Ontario, are located on part of his land grant and named for him. The town of Brant, New York was also named for him.
Joseph Brant Hospital in Burlington, Ontario, is named for him; it is sited on land he had owned.

The township of Tyendinaga and the Tyendinaga Mohawk Territory are named for him, by his traditional Mohawk name, in an alternate spelling.
The neighborhood of Tyandaga in Burlington was also named for him.
Brant is one of the 14 leading Canadian military figures commemorated at the Valiants Memorial in Ottawa.
A dormitory and one of the squadrons at the Royal Military College of Canada are named for him.