The 1932 hanging of Six Nations’ Joe Bomberry was described by the late John Maracle as an act to control Six Nations people.
Maracle, a Mohawk worker, said he was in jail with Bomberry in 1932. Also in jail was a young white man who was accused of murdering his grandmother. Bomberry was accused of shooting his common-law-wife Lily Johns in the back with a shotgun. There were no witnesses. According to Maracle, a fluent mother-tongue Mohawk speaker, Bomberry himself didn’t know what happened and why the gun went off.
According to Maracle that didn’t stop the outside law from turning what might have been an accident into a manhunt for a murderer.
Reports at the time describe that provincial police Ben Milligan and Herbert Langton left Brantford for the Six Nation to investigate Bomberry’s guilt for the murder of his common-law-wife Lily Johns. They were accompanied by Inspector John Miller, of the criminal investigation department of the provincial police from Toronto headquarters. They were able to locate Bomberry.
Six Nations eyewitnesses at the time say the police stripped Bomberry to the waste. They handcuffed and shackled Bomberry. And on horse-back they paraded Bomberry through the reserve.
Maracle said that Bomberry was accused of murdering his wife “but it was never clear if it was an accident or what happened. He wasn’t good at speaking English. His lawyer wasn’t trying too hard to get his story.”
Bomberry was convicted of murder and sentenced for execution.
Reports say that the “final chapter in a tragedy of eight months ago was recorded in the Brant County Court House at 12:10 a.m. today when Joseph Bomberry, 38 years old Six Nations indian, was executed for the murder of his common law wife, Lizzie Johns, at their home on the Six Nations reserve. Displaying the same indifference which had characterized his demeanour since the time of his arrest on April 4.
“At 12:09 a.m. Bomberry was led quietly to the execution chamber. While the 23rd psalm was recited by Rev. Mr. Loveday the black cap was placed by Hangman William Edwards and the trap was sprung within one minute. At 12:19 a.m. Bomberry was pronounced dead by Dr. H.I. Palmer, jail physician.”
Jailed for “fighting with 15 RCMP” at a dance at the Old Community Hall in Ohsweken, Maracle said the young white man was charged with bludgeoning his grandmother with a hammer. The young man’s lawyer got him off.
“They were showing us what would happen if we resisted the police,” Maracle said, pointing out that eight years earlier 50 RCMP threw out the traditional government at gunpoint.
“If they could get them, they could get anyone.”