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University of Central Missouri
Warrensburg, MO 64093
Contact: Mike Greife
WARRENSBURG, MO (July 8, 2009) – Warrensburg resident William Foley is a historian who has spent his career as an educator inspiring others to understand the history of the world in which we live. Now, in his retirement a professor emeritus of history at UCM, he finds himself in the role of a student of history while earning recognition as an authority in many areas of American history.
Broadcast Scheduled for July 27 on KMOS-TV
Foley’s growing expertise in American Indian trials has gained the attention of the producers of The History Detectives, a program broadcast by PBS and KMOS-TV, UCM's public broadcasting station. Foley will appear in a segment of the program to be aired Monday, July 27 at 8 p.m. on digital channel 6.1 and 11 p.m. on digital channel 6.2.
Native American Trial Investigated
The segment, titled “The Fillmore Pardon,” will examine the details of the pardon of See See Sah Mah, a Sac Indian convicted in the 1847 murder of trader Norris Colburn on the Santa Fe Trail near present-day Lawrence, KS. President Millard Fillmore granted a commutation of the death sentence to life imprisonment, but only after the intervention of two St. Louis attorneys.
Francis P. “Frank” Blair, Jr., who would later become a U.S. Congressman and Senator and U.S. vice presidential candidate, and Benjamin Gratz Brown, who also later became a U.S. Senator, Governor of Missouri and U.S. vice presidential candidate, represented the defendant in his 1851 trial, eventually bringing the case to the attention of President Fillmore.
Question by Viewer Initiates Research Project
Interest in the case by the History Detectives staff was generated by a question from the current owner of the presidential pardon, who wanted to know, “Who was See See Sah Mah, and why did the American president choose to intervene?”
Program producers contacted Foley when they became aware of his research and study of Indian trials. After reading the initial research sent by the program’s staff, Foley began conducting additional research, which resulted in discovery of the original trial transcripts. It became clear that See See Sah Mah, for a variety of reasons, had not received a fair trial.
A Miscarriage of Justice
“At the time, many questioned why Blair and Brown would take on a cause of this nature,” Foley said. “I think they believed in the justice system, and they felt that a great miscarriage of justice had occurred.”
Foley originally had filmed a segment of the program at the National Archives in Kansas City, MO, prior to his discovery of the trial transcript. With the new details available, a new segment was filmed while Foley and his wife, Martha, were visiting their son and his family in Virginia.
Foley noted that pre-Civil War Indian trials were influenced by newly signed treaties with many Indian nations that provided some basic civil rights for native Americans in attempts to prevent retaliation in the American frontier. However, public sentiment still prevailed, and, as in the case of See See Sah Mah, unbiased verdicts often were difficult to obtain.
Foley also noted that “this case confirmed and gave a better sense of the actual proceedings. This was a federal trial, and it’s the most complete case file I’ve seen.”
Murder Never Solved
Although his death sentence was commuted, See See Sah Mah was sent to the Missouri Penitentiary in Jefferson City, then known as one of the worst in the country. He died while in prison, a notation of his death only penciled in the margin of prison records. Although there was speculation about the real murderer of Norris Colburn, no one was every charged and brought to trial.