Captive Journey

In the earliest days of white settlement in the Evansville region, one of the most harrowing stories unfolded in the life of a child named Isaac Knight, for whom Knight Township was named years later. The story reads like a fictional tale or western movie, but it is entirely true and seldom remembered today.

Isaac Knight was born the last of seven children to a Pennsylvania couple who moved west in a wave of settlers in the early 19th century. The Knights eventually settled in Red Banks (now Henderson, Ky.) with other settlers who built secure forts enclosing their homesteads against attacks by area Native American tribes, not all of whom were friendly. Knight’s family raised cattle, and one afternoon in the summer of 1812, he and four other boys, Peter and George Sprinkle and John and Jacob Upp, set out in a canoe for the Indiana side of the Ohio (to what is now lower Union Township) to harvest cane for cattle feed.

As boys will, they were playing more than working and making quite a noise that attracted the attention of traveling Pottawattamie and Kickapoos, who ferociously attacked them. Peter Sprinkle, the oldest of the boys at 17, was shot and killed, and John Upp, about 7 years old, was slain with a tomahawk. The other three boys were taken captive.

The Pottawattamies took Knight northwest; the Kickapoos took the other two boys a different direction. After a months-long, harrowing march that included frequent tormenting by male warriors, the 13-year-old Knight found himself in an area near Chicago. He had been vaccinated for smallpox just before being taken captive, and had, as people receiving the first vaccinations did, become ill for a time during the long journey. Many members of the tribe contracted smallpox and died, and young Knight feared he would be blamed for the outbreak. A year and a half later, during a visit to a Lake Michigan trading area, Knight snuck out of the encampment and begged lake barge operator Captain Mills for help. Mills hid the boy on his boat and left with him the following day, taking him to safety in Detroit.

There, a company of soldiers traveling south picked Knight up and took him to Fort Maumee. He slowly made his way south back to the family who had long since believed him dead. He learned that his two other friends had escaped a year or so earlier and all were reunited on the Kentucky side of the Ohio River. Later, as an adult, Knight moved to Vanderburgh County and established a homestead in what was to be named Knight Township. A beautiful painting depicting the capture of Isaac Knight resides in the collection of the Evansville Museum of Arts, History and Science, and a commemorative marker sits at the site of his original grave in front of Snodgrass Floral Co. on Lincoln Avenue, just east of Green River Road.

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