On New Year’s Day in 1837, one American Indian man killed another in the western region of the Wisconsin Territory. This, at least was the ruling of the circuit court judge at Prairie du Chien. The facts of the case were not in dispute, a man named Chigawaasking shot and killed a man named Alfred Aitkin. The crime occurred at Red Cedar Lake in the newly organized Wisconsin Territory where both men resided. In a ruling that shocked the Aitkin family, the American judge presiding over the trial of Chigawaasking determined that “our laws did not recognize Indian murder,” and he set the accused free. For the jury the issue at stake was not murder but race. Alfred Aitkin was the son of an American fur trader and an Anishinaabe woman. In order to adjudicate his murder as a crime at least one man involved in the incident needed to be white and or a citizen of the United States. When the jury examined the case, however, they could only see red. They ruled that both men were Natives and therefore non-citizens with no legal standing in an American court of law. This article examines the fate of both Chigawaasking and Alfred Aitkin in the context of America’s western expansion, studying other murder trials involving Native assailants and their white and Native victims. These cases provide a means of thinking about America as a republic and as a colonial power whose expansion required the systematic dispossession of Native peoples.


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pp. 581-611
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