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Indian Woman Still in Jail: Mrs. Norma White Fails to Raise $5,000 Bail.

On May 16, 1937, this was the Buffalo Courier-Express‘ title of its page 1 report on a 16-year-old Cayuga girl awaiting grand jury action on a manslaughter charge of shooting her husband on May 13 with a shotgun. Mr. and Mrs. Ivory White resided on the Cattaraugus Reservation in Western New York since their marriage eight months earlier. Ivory was a well-known Seneca athlete whose specialties included professional boxing. Constable William J. Murphy responded to the scene and transported the victim to the hospital in nearby Gowanda where he died. Events moved forward quickly.

Murphy also briefly quizzed Mrs. White whose statements to him appeared on May 14 on the front page of the Buffalo Evening News. Murphy stated that Norma was “sick of” her husband’s constant mental and physical abuse for much of the previous year. For example, he had repeatedly threatened “to tie her to the nearest railroad tracks….and keep her there…. until the train ran over her.” He noted as well her black eye from her husband’s punch, and she informed him that she had a burn on her left leg “inflicted by a match held by her husband.” In this interview and all the others, Mrs. White stated that she did not remember shooting her husband because “everything went black” beforehand.

After speaking with the Constable, Mrs.White traveled to the home of Justice of the Peace, Julius J. Flogaus, with her mother and sister, and tearfully informed him of the shooting. White did not say that she was “battered” but stated that she was the victim of constant abuse, although it appears that no complaints of mistreatment were ever recorded by law enforcement. According to the Cattauragus Republican on May 19, the Justice pointed out that the husband was already in trouble with the law in that he had been on probation from a charge of assaulting the girl’s grandfather. Also, Flogaus knew what to do with Mrs. White, saying that “I knew her ancestors from way back. She’s good stock. I recommended that they let her go home.” Who the “they” were is still unclear, but she did spend the night at her home and returned the following morning when Murphy came for her.

This case was now a Federal matter. The Constable took her—apparently not in handcuffs—to the Federal Building in Buffalo to be questioned by agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The Buffalo Evening News on May 14 declared that the F.B.I. “was called in because the shooting occurred on government property.” By late Friday afternoon, United States Attorney George L. Grobe reasoned that Norma’s crime required an arraignment before United States Commissioner, Boyce H. Butterfield which took place in his office. A defense attorney, Richard A. Grimm, was appointed, but there is nothing in the press on his strategy or advice—in any case, Norma pleaded not guilty when charged with voluntary manslaughter. When the defendant could not meet the bail of $5,000, she was taken to the Erie County jail where she would stay until the Grand Jury rendered its decision.

Beginning on May 25 in Rochester, the Grand Jury met. Grobe presented the case, but it is unknown if he called upon witnesses. The Jury’s decision on June 8 was a “no-bill,” meaning that Norma was not indicted. She was free. However, Federal officials pursued other involvement. The Gowanda News discussed this new phase on June 10, reporting that “Following the jury’s pronouncement…Richard A. Grimm…and George L. Grobe moved to help the girl, who is an expectant mother. Her case will be taken with the State Social Welfare Bureau…”

Violence against women was not a native tradition, and generally, Iroquois women enjoyed equality, political power, and respect. However, in 1937, a pivotal case in women’s rights arose on the Cattaraugus Reservation. An extreme manslaughter case involving a desperate young woman was settled in her favor.

This article was originally published on 3/20/19 on NewYorkHistoryReview.com.

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