In December 1763, a group of white settlers in Pennsylvania traveled to Conestoga Indian Town, a Native American village made up of twenty people. Over the course of the day, the settlers killed all the Conestoga, wiping out the town. Much of the archival evidence of the event focuses on what happened after; the massacred increased tension between the frontiersmen and the Pennsylvania Quakers. The settlers then marched to Philadelphia, intending to kill more Native people along the way. However, upon their arrival, Benjamin Franklin helped redirect their anger into a “pamphlet war.” A new graphic novel Ghost River: The Fall and Rise of the Conestoga addresses this bias in the archival evidence and tells the story of the Conestoga Massacre from the perspective of the Native Americans.
The idea for the novel first began when Library Company of Philadelphia employee Will Fenton noticed the absence of Indigenous voices while working on a project about the storm of print media produced after the massacre. Fenton asked Native artists Lee Francis IV of the Laguna Pueblo and Weshoyot Alvitre of the Tongva to write and illustrate the book. As both Francis and Alvitre are from different regions than the Conestoga, members of nations with a history in the Pennsylvania region were brought into to consult on the project.
Francis told NPR that the medium of the graphic novel helped create a counter-narrative for this event. “The idea of being able to couple images with a story, the imagery and the words is one way that we can undo a lot of this mystique, this pop culture misrepresentation and misinformation of Native people and Native identities,” Francis said.
You can read Ghost River online and visit the Library Company of Philadelphia to see the original art for the novel.
The entirety of NPR’s interview with Francis and Alvitre can be read here.