This article appeared in the Dayton Daily News, April 28, 1992
Riddle ancestor solves questions concerning Van Cleve’s murder
by Roz Young
History is somewhat like a jigsaw puzzle in which some pieces fit and some are missing. It is fun when we have been looking at the puzzle a long time, and then, from out of the blue, along comes another piece to add to the picture.
We recently had here a story of the killing of John Van Cleve as told to Evangeline Lindsley by her step-great-grandmother, Mary Jane Holt Lindsay, the granddaughter of John Van Cleve.
Benjamin Van Cleve, John’s eldest son, had returned to town when he saw a crowd gathering in the village center and ran to see what was the occasion. There he met a man who had seen an Indian firing at John Van Cleve while he was working with three other men in his cornfield on the edge of town. Van Cleve escaped injury, but one of the others, Joseph Cutter, was taken captive.
Benjamin called for his fellow townsmen to join him in pursuing the Indians. They chased them all day without success and abandoned the chase when night fell.
Five days later John was again working in his field when Indians attacked. “Two men who were with my father,” wrote Benjamin, “ran before him. He passed them at about 100 yards. The Indians pursued. It was supposed one had concealed himself in the trees, for on my father’s passing, and Indian sprang at him. My father was seen to throw him, but at this time the Indian was plunging his knife into his heart. He took a small scalp and off he ran. The men behind him came immediately but he was already dead.”
Benjamin gave no further details of the killing, but now thanks to Thomas Cecil, we can fill in some of the missing pieces.
When John Van Cleve went out to work in his cornfield the morning of the first Indian attack, Joseph Cutter, William Harris and John Riddle went with him. Riddle had been a colonel in the Revolution but had given up his commission and was beginning to farm on the outskirts of Cincinnati. The four men worked until noon and then sat down under a large tree to eat their lunch. They noticed that the jay-birds seemed unusually noisy, and Riddle thought he heard a noise coming from some spicewood bushes. “I think there must be Indians near,” Riddle said to the others.
The others laughed and said he was imagining things. But since they had a dog with them they sent it into the bushes where Riddle though he had heard the noise. The dog returned quickly and exhibited signs of fright. The men sensed danger and decided to return home. Van Cleve started along a path leading to the village.
From the woods several shots were fired at him, but he was not hit and ran down the path. The other three men darted off into the woods, hoping to reach the village protected by circuitous ways. The Indians gave chase and captured Cutter; he was never heard from again.
Five days later, Harris, Riddle and Van Cleve, working the cornfield were again attacked. Van Cleve was not armed. Riddle and Harris fought from behind trees and killed several Indians, but since they were greatly outnumbered, all three decided to run for it. Van Cleve was about 300 yards ahead of the other two when an Indian in ambush by a fallen tree stabbed him. When the Indian saw Riddle and Harris approaching with guns, he ran and joined the other Indians. When the men found Van Cleve was dead, they headed for the village and made it in safely with the Indians in close pursuit.
When some of the citizens, including John Van Cleve’s widow and children, decided to go upriver and settle at Dayton, Riddle remained in Cincinnati.
He was a farmer, and is said to have raised the first crop of wheat and the first apple and peach orchard between the Little Miami and the Great Miami. He became a commissioner of Hamilton County and was a trustee and treasurer of Mill Creek Township and a charter member of the First Presbyterian Church. He had five wives, Successively, Cecil points out, and one of them was Cecil’s as many times great-grandmother.
And so we have filled in some of the details of the murder of John Van Cleve. There are still two blank spots in the Van Cleve picture.
What became of Joseph Cutter?
Can any of the descendants of William Harris fill us in on what became of him?