Brave Bear

Joseph Johnson was a former soldier who had served at Fort Bennett in the Dakota Territory. When his enlistment ended, he decided to join his brother in business nearby.

Brave Bear knew of Johnson’s plans and also knew he was carrying a large sum of money and other goods. On May 15, 1879, he intersected with Johnson, told him he was traveling in the same direction, and killed him when he had the chance. He then robbed him and fled toward Canada to join his father in law, Sitting Bull, leader of the Lakota tribe forced north after the massive U.S. government response to the defeat of General Custer’s troops in 1876.

En rote, Brave Bear met Edward Allison, a U.S. military scout who recognized Johnson’s rifle and horse. When Johnson’s body was later discovered, Allison reported what he had seen.

When Sitting Bull was forced to surrender in 1881, Brave Bear was arrested after crossing back into the United States. He was taken to Yankton to stand trial.

In US District Court for the District of Dakota Territory in Yankton, Brave Bear was found guilty of murder in December 1881, and sentenced to death on January 9, 1882. Judge Edgerton set his execution for July 20, 1882.

After a 60-day reprieve from President Arthur, Brave Bear was hanged on November 15, 1882.

Author: Bill Lofquist

I am a sociologist and death penalty scholar at the State University of New York at Geneseo. I am also a Pittsburgh native. My present research focuses on the history of the death penalty in Allegheny County (Pittsburgh), Pa. This website is dedicated to collecting, analyzing, and sharing information about all Allegheny County cases in which a death sentence was imposed. Please share any questions or comments, errors or omissions, or other matters of interest related to these cases or to the broader history of the death penalty in Allegheny County.

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