Bemino (fl. 1710s–1780s)—known as John Killbuck, Sr to white settlers—was a renowned medicine man and war leader of Shawnee and Delaware (Lenape) warriors during the French and Indian War (1754–63). He was a son of Netawatwees, at one time principal chief of the Delaware, and his own son was Gelelemend (John Killbuck, Jr.), a Delaware chief during the American Revolutionary War. Bemino lived with his people in what is now eastern Ohio, but was mostly active in the upper Potomac River watershed in what is now the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia.
Within the Delaware hierarchy, Bemino’s phratry (clan) is unclear, but he was a member of either the Turtle or the Turkey phratry. He may have been born or raised in what is now eastern Ohio where his father, a Delaware sub-chief named Netawatwees, had been forced to remove from the Delaware River Valley by white pressure. In any case, by the 1740s and '50s Bemino was well acquainted with all the white settler families in the valley of the South Branch Potomac River in what is now the Eastern Panhandle of West Virginia. This river and region were known at that time to Indians and whites alike by a Native American name — Wappocomo. Such was the rapport between Bemino and the newly established whites that, shortly before the outbreak of the French and Indian War (1754), one of them—a Mr Peter Casey—hired Bemino to chase down and retrieve a "runaway negro" (or, by another account, a runaway "Irish servant"). In trying to collect his payment, however, he quarreled with Casey, who knocked him to the ground with a cane. (Bemino long held a grudge and, throughout the subsequent hostilities, attempted without success to find an opportunity to kill Casey.) At times, Bemino would live among some of the English families, a situation that allowed him to familiarize himself with their habits and assess their resources—knowledge that later proved invaluable when he allied himself with the French as a leader of marauding warrior bands in the region.
The French and Indian War
After the outbreak of hostilities at the Battle of Jumonville Glen in Pennsylvania (May 28, 1754), Bemino was among those Indian leaders siding with the French against the English. Bemino is said to have led the attack in an ambush (the "Battle of the Trough") of white settlers near Fort Pleasant, in what is now Hardy County, West Virginia, in March or April 1756. A one- or two-hour firefight left seven whites (out of about 18) dead as against three Indians (out of 60 or 70). At around the same time, Bemino and a small band apprehended Mr. Vincent Williams, a settler on Patterson's Creek, some 9 miles across Patterson Creek Mountain from Fort Pleasant. After besieging him in his home (and losing 5 of their party of 7), the Indians managed to kill him and quarter his body, hanging the four parts at the four corners of the log cabin, and impaling his head upon a fence stake at the front door.
An engagement known as the Battle of Great Cacapon took place on April 18, 1756. A number of years after this incident, Bemino described how he and a band of Indians (probably composed of both Delawares and Shawnee) killed two men near Fort Edwards, not far from the Cacapon River in what is now Hampshire County, West Virginia. Deliberately leaving a trail of corn meal, they lay in wait for an ambush along a high stream bank. Captain John Mercer led a band of militia (said to number either 40 or 100, depending on the source) in pursuit. When they passed the concealed Indians, the trap was sprung, and the Indians opened a withering crossfire, killing Mercer and 16 of his men. Survivors were soon chased down and killed, with Bemino claiming that only six men escaped.
In 1756 or 1757, Bemino approached Fort Cumberland, just across the Potomac River in Maryland, with a large warrior force. Agreeing to a parlay, the garrison commander, a Major Livingston, admitted the leaders inside the gates, but detained them there and, assuming that the encounter was a ruse, humiliated them (perhaps by dressing them in women's clothing) before expelling them from the fort.
Bemino and his Delaware and Shawnee warriors attacked the British settler stockades at Fort Upper Tract and Fort Seybert (on the South Fork of the South Branch in what is now Pendleton County) on 27 and 28 April 1758, respectively. Fort Seybert (about 12 miles northeast of the present town of Franklin) was then occupied by about 30 people, apparently only three of which were adult males. After the defenders surrendered, the Indians spared only eleven white lives. According to the son of one of the survivors:
They bound ten, whom they conveyed without the fort, and then proceeded to massacre the others in the following manner: They seated them in a row upon a log, with an Indian standing behind each; and at a given signal, each Indian sunk his tomahawk into the head of his victim: an additional blow or two dispatched them.
In later years, the sons of the aforementioned Peter Casey and Vincent Williams visited the elderly Bemino in the Ohio Territory. By this time he was quite feeble and completely blind. Upon hearing the name of Col. Vincent Williams, his only response was "Your father was a brave warrior". Upon hearing that the other visitor, Benjamin Casey, was Peter Casey's son, he responded: "Your father owes me eight shillings; will you pay it?" During this visit, Bemino related many of the details of his exploits which would otherwise have been lost to history for lack of surviving eyewitnesses.
- Despite the bitter animosity between Bemino and the white settlers and officials, two places in Ohio continue to bear his name: the town of Killbuck and the stream known as Killbuck Creek.
- Kercheval, Samuel (2nd ed., 1850), A History of the Valley of Virginia; Woodstock, Virginia, pg 67.
- Kercheval, Op. cit., pg 66. Years later, having retired to the Ohio Territory, Bemino attempted to collect from Casey's brother on the partially fulfilled debt, which had been neglected owing to the outbreak of hostilities.
- Kercheval, Op. cit., pg 72.
- Kercheval, Op. cit., pg 67.
- Some sources (e.g. Cartmell and Kercheval et al) place this event in 1757, apparently as they rely on Killbuck's account of the events. Correspondence by George Washington concerning Mercer's death is in 1756, and newspaper reports from that year (see Lucier) also place it then.
- Cartmell, Thomas Kemp (1909), Shenandoah Valley Pioneers and their Descendants: A History of Frederick County, Virginia; Winchester, Virginia: The Eddy Press Corporation.
- West Virginia Archive report indicates Mercer's force as 100, while Killbuck (as recounted in Cartmell) claims 40.
- Kercheval, Op. cit., pp 71–72.
- Kercheval, Op. cit., pp 80.
- Kercheval, Op. cit., pg 66.
- Lucier, Armand Francis (1999), French and Indian War Notices Abstracted from Colonial Newspapers: Volume 2, 1756–1757; Westminster, Maryland: Heritage Books.
- White, Richard (1991), The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650–1815, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, pg 251.
- Morton, Oren F. (1910), A History of Pendleton County, West Virginia, Franklin, West Virginia.
- Gordon, Scott Paul (2010), Two William Henrys: Indian and White Brothers in Arms in Faith in Colonial and Revolutionary America, Jacobsburg Historical Society, pp. 7–9.