History of Indiana's first sheriffs office
Knox County Sheriffs
Wm. L. Scott
Thomas I. Beeler
James H. Shouse
James E. Kackley
M. I. Seddlemeyer
M. M. McDowell
John L. Buckles
John C. Cox
Louis C. Summitt
Adolph H. Kruse
Harry C. Adams
E. W. Chadwick
Adolph M. Kruse
A. B. Taylor
C. A. Joice
Oscar E. Westfall
Francis E. Thomas
John H. Thomas
Hugh W. Williams
Marion B. Youngstafel
Mary Lee Youngstafel
Rebert J. Jones
Donald F. Kirkham
Jerry L. Mooney
Knox County Deputies
Indiana's First Sheriff John Small
1st Sheriff in Indiana (Knox County)
1st Lieutenant Colonel of Indiana National Guard
1st Adjutant General of Indiana Territory
Captain of Indiana Territory Militia
Private 7th Class (Pennsylvania Militia)
Master Gun & Silversmith
War of 1812
Battle of Tippecanoe
Revolutionary War (Pennsylvania Militia)
"The Battle of the Embrass River"
John Small, the first sheriff of Knox County and Indiana, immigrated to Pennsylvania with his family and began an apprenticeship as a gunsmith. He served as an armorer during Lord Dunmore's War. During the American Revolutionary War, he served as a private in the Washington County, Pennsylvania militia. After the war, in 1785, Small relocated to Vincennes, Indiana. He became an officer in the local militia, and participated in the 1786 Battle of the Embarras River. Small also corresponded with George Rogers Clark that same year, and petitioned for military aid from Kentucky.
Small worked as a gunsmith, merchant, and tavern owner. He was appointed sheriff on 4 July 1790, and the tavern was used as the first Knox County Courthouse. Small was a representative for Knox County to the Northwest Territory Legislature in 1799. In 1800, Small was appointed as Indiana Territory's first adjutant general under territorial Governor William Henry Harrison, and given the rank of lieutenant colonel. He held this office for over a decade, and fought in the Battle of Tippecanoe, but stepped down with Governor Harrison during the War of 1812.
John Small was a hard-fisted and sometimes volatile frontiersman, craftsman, and businessman in the Northwest Territory of the late 1700s and early 1800s. During the Revolution, Small was apprenticed to gunsmith brothers Richard and William Butler at Fort Pitt. In The Gunsmith in Colonial Virginia, Harold Gill noted that John Small received pay in 1775 for his services as an armorer during Lord Dunmore’s War. In 1782, he was listed as a private 7th class in Captain Samuel Cunningham’s company in the Washington County militia in western Pennsylvania
After Independence, John Small joined the westward migration of pioneers into the “territory northwest of the Ohio River,” establishing himself around 1785 in Vincennes, along the east bank of the Wabash River in present-day south-
At the corner of First and Main, he ran a tavern that later became the county’s first courthouse and meeting spot for the young territorial legislature. Small operated a ferry service across the Wabash, launching from the rear of that tavern. He built one of the first gristmills in the area, along the river Embarras (AWM-brah), six miles west of Vincennes. Among other occupations, John Small was a surveyor, farmer, blacksmith, silversmith, and highly regarded engraver.
But John Small was no ordinary shopkeeper or millwright. He proved himself a rough-knuckled, sometimes hard-drinking militia captain who led his fellow frontiersmen in a river town that saw depredations by natives on settlers, and vice versa.
In a 1786 incident known as “The Skirmish on the Embarras,” a settler named Latroumelle was killed and scalped, his farm
torched, and his wife and two children taken captive by Peoria Indians. The History of Knox and Daviess Counties (1886), recounts that John Small assembled a party of “eighty men hastily mounted,” and led them in pursuit. Cornering the Peorias on the south bank of the Embarras River, they “opened fire on the camp from every available tree.” The battle was heated and lives were left on the field by both sides. The militia drove the Peorias off and retrieved the Latroumelle captives, “found bound to a tree, still unharmed.” Twenty-seven year-old Captain John Small took a musket ball in the hip, and walked with a limp thereafter.
Son William Small later recorded in a letter to historian Lyman Draper that his father was: “6 feet and one inch high. He weighed 184 pounds. He was an expert horseman. There was no better shot in the North West than he. The Indians called him ‘big knife.’” John Small’s stature, his skill at arms, and military experience made him a likely candidate in 1790 to be named sheriff ofthe newly formed Knox County, which then encompassed about half the Northwest Territory. As first sheriff, John Small’s legacy endures today
As a protector of the land and the people on the frontier, John Small’s service continued past his tenure as sheriff. From 1801 to 1812, Governor Harrison called on John Small to serve as his adjutant general to the Indiana territorial militia, a position he held with the rank of lieutenant colonel. By his service to the territorial militia, today’s Indiana Army National Guard claims John Small as first in its line of 58 adjutant generals.
John Small served not only the people, but the land. The Executive Journal of the Indiana Territory notes in September 1801 that John Small was named Surveyor of Knox County. On horseback, the 42-year-old Revolutionary War veteran ranged up and down the Wabash, using Gunter chains and surveyor compasses built at his own workbench, mapping and measuring the land for sale and military land grants. In 1819, a 60-year-old John Small laid out the community of Smallsburg along the western bank of the Embarras River, about three miles south of where he’d taken a musket ball to the hip thirty-three years earlier. His love for the land came through in his posting in The Indiana Centinel late that year, promoting the fledging town as “...a beautiful situation on a
navigable river, which will soon bear on its bosom the rich product of a land of inexhaustible fertility.”
When the Indiana Territory was split off from the Old Northwest Territory in 1800, a version of the Northwest Territorial seal was modified for use as the Indiana Territorial Seal. Governor Harrison’s papers contain a letter from Harrison to then Secretary of State James Madison, datelined “Vincennes 8th Septr 1801.” Harrison submitted John Small’s bill for “Making A Seal for the Generall Court of the Indiana Territory,” along with his endorsement:
"The late Secretary of State (John Marshall) having
neglected to Send on a seal for the General Court of
this Territory and as it was impossible to do with-
out one I employed Mr (John) Small of this place to
supply the deficiency – he has executed his task
extremely well & his charge (30 dollars) I think
Harrison returned to John Small often in the following years to strike more seals for the territorial government. A version of the Indiana Territorial Seal was later adopted as the Official State Seal when Indiana entered statehood in 1816. John Small served the people and the land of the Old Northwest in many roles, and was even elected by his community in 1799 to serve as their representative to the Northwest Territorial Legislature. And John Small was one more thing: John Small was a gun maker.
In a July 2004 article in The Gun Report, author and collector Shelby Gallien called John Small: “perhaps the finest gunsmith to work west of the Appalachian Mountains in the years following the American Revolution.” Many of the John Small arms known today are associated with well-known historical figures. Explorer William Clark owned a signed John Small rifle, which currently resides in the archives of the Missouri History Museum. Striking similarities exist between the Clark Rifle and Indiana’s Grouseland Rifle. The
patchboxes of both rifles display nearly identical engravings of the Angel Gabriel. The silver medallions behind the cheek pieces of each gun have a similar theme of eagles with wings spread. The stocks of both rifles have inlaid eight-point stars of similar design. The brass toe plates on both rifles exhibit similar double fleur-de-lis patterns. These similarities suggest the rifles may have been built around the same time, and increase the historical interest of the Grouseland Rifle, if not both guns. The Indiana State Museum holds two John Small rifles (along with a tomahawk, pistol, and powder horn), which were sold to the museum by the late Jim Dresslar, a noted collector of American arms. The “Vigo Rifle” was once owned by Colonel Francis Vigo, a fur trader who aided in George Rogers Clark’s capture of Fort Sackville in 1779. The “Girty Rifle” is believed to have been owned by one of the turncoat Girty
brothers, Simon or James. The “Menard Pistol” was made for Pierre Menard, notable as the first lieutenant governor of the State of Illinois.
In a private collection, the “Kindig Rifle” was discovered in 1958 in England by Joe Kindig, Jr., noted author of Thoughts on the Kentucky Rifle in Its Golden Age. When this rifle sold to a private collector in 2011, the James Julia auction site described the stock’s intricate inlaid silver urn as “a glorious expression of Rococo design, beautifully proportioned, designed and crafted.”
The Smithsonian Institution holds a tomahawk owned by General Henry Knox, artillery officer in the Continental Army, later Secretary of War, and namesake of Vincennes’ Knox County. The engraving and shape of the long knife in the hawk’s blade led authors Jim Dresslar and Jeff Jaeger to state in their book John Small of Vincennes: Gunsmith on the Western Frontier: “There is no doubt as to who made this pipe tomahawk.”
In discussing “who owned” rifles made by John Small, a story in the April 25, 1903, Vincennes Daily Sun raises an intriguing proposition. The newspaper recounts an Indian engagement near town, likely occurring in the early 1790s. In describing the dust-up, the story mentions several times that John Small referred to his personal rifle as “Old Copperhead.” Because the Grouseland Rifle is the only known John Small gun to have copper cladding on the muzzle, it’s interesting to consider whether the Grouseland Rifle may have been this “Old Copperhead” John Small’s personal rifle.