Good(k)night in America

Two brothers slain by Native Americans — and a niece who was kidnapped and made an American Indian bride. If Obama’s great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather Christian Gutknecht had an adventurous life, it’s lost to history. But the fate of his brothers and their families could fill a TV mini-series.

Christian and his brothers, Hans Michael and George, all emigrated to the New World from Germany on separate ships in the mid-1700s. All three went by Goodnight once they arrived. Both Hans — also known as John Michael, or just Michael — and George were slaughtered by American Indians in separate late-18th century attacks in frontier Kentucky. "They pioneered into the Kentucky wilderness among the earliest of those who went there; the blood of both brothers, spilled in Indian warfare, helped make it ‘the dark and bloody ground,’ " wrote descendant S.H. Goodnight in The Good(k)night Family (Gutknecht) Family

George was killed in 1780 in a British-led raid by 500 Canadians and Native Americans on Ruddell’s Station in frontier Kentucky. Five of his children were captured by American Indians. His daughter Elizabeth had two sons by a Native American before she returned to her family. "George was massacreed in the most barbrous manner while his children were scattered among the Indians," according to a family letter written in 1883 letter. "My father was taken to Detroit and sold to the French and taken to Canada. Elizabeth never got to her people until she was twenty two years old."

Accounts vary on exactly how Hans Michael met his fate. One version has him being killed by Indians while his family was part of wagon train of pioneers heading from North Carolina toward what is now Mercer Co., Ky., in 1781. His son was wounded, and his pregnant wife escaped into the woods, where a search party found her days later "lying prostrate upon the ground in a semi-conscious state, her face covered with a blanket," according to the unattributed family account published in a newspaper in 1973.

But a version passed down in old family letters has Indians attacking Hans Michael and his son while the two were apparently travelling alone. According to this version, they were returning to their Kentucky settlement after a trip to North Carolina to retrieve some of their possessions. Native Americans killed — and scalped — Hans Michael and wounded his son, who was able to escape.

"The Indians came upon them at their camp fire, killed the father," a descendant wrote in 1883. "They shot the son, the arrow entered one side and came out at the other, and the surprising part is in that condition he made his way to the horses, stopped the bell, concealed himself and the next day went to the white settlements."

"Great grandfather was killed by the Indians and John was shot but got away in Ky. and one of my grand aunts was stolen by the Indians and had two sons by the Indians before she got back to her folks." Source: Family letter written by John S. Goodnight in 1884 and reprinted in The Good(k)night Family (Gutknecht) Family in America by S.H. Goodnight (1936).

****** "The family version of the removal to Kentucky and the killing of Michael Goodnight by Indians is told in this manner: "’After locating and building a cabin at Harlan’s Station in what later became Mercer County, [Hans] Michael Goodnight returned to North Carolina and then set out again to Kentucky in July 1781, with his family and household effects. They were a party of a caravan composed of other pioneer families, who were guarded by thirty armed men. "’No serious mishap befell the emigrant train until it arrived within half a day’s journey of Harlan’s Station, where a camp was pitched for the night. All was secure but at midnight, the fearful cry of the savage was heard, followed by gun shots, screams and confusion. "’Michael Goodnight was killed in the first onslaught and his son, John, was severly wounded, but he succeded in making his escape. Mrs. Goodnight was expecting another child at the time; she fled into the dark forest. "’Many of the immigrants were massacred, but a few escaped to the station where the alarm was given. A party was made up to search for Mrs. Goodnight and she was found two days later in woods lying prostrate upon the ground in a semi-conscious state, her face covered with a blanket. "’She was taken to Harlan’s Station, where four months later, January 1, 1782 a son, Isaac Goodnight, was born. A curious circumstance, preserved in the family traditions, is that from his birth until the day of his death Isaac could never go to sleep without covering his face.’" Source: Unattributed historical family account printed in the Harrodsburg Herald, Harrodsburg, Ky., on Jan. 18, 1973.

****** Excerpt from 1883 family letter: "The two brothers, John (Michael) and George, in the days of General Logan and Boon emegrated to the state of Kentucky and met sad misfortune. George and his entire family except two sons who were in the service were captured I think at Kentons [Ruddell's] station. "George was massacreed in the most barbrous manner while his children were scattered among the Indians. My father was taken to Detroit and sold to the French and taken to Canada. Elizabeth never got to her people until she was twenty two years old. "John (Michael) and his son John went back after some of their goods which they had to pack on horses for want of roads, the Indians came upon them at their camp fire, killed the father. They shot the son, the arrow entered one side and came out at the other and the surprising part is in that condition he made his way to the horses, stopped the bell, concealed himself and the next day went to the white settlements. "I have given the outlines of our people in America. . . . . . Respectfully, Farewell, S. W. Goodnight.
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