Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

Border Wars

by Elizabeth Eggleston Seelye
Assisted by Edward Eggleston
New York
Dodd, Mead and Company, Publishers, 1879.



RED JACKET dreamed. He dreamed that he ought to be a chief, and that the Great Spirit was angry that his people had not made him one. The announcement of his dream did not at first have the desired effect. The dream was repeated several times, when it happened that the smallpox appeared among the Senecas. Behold here was a judgment upon the Indians for their disregard of the Great Spirit's commands! Thus through superstition and intrigue Red Jacket became a chief.

A treaty was made with the Six Nations on the part of the United States at Fort Stanwix in 1784. General Lafayette was present at this council, and was struck with the eloquence of Red Jacket. The warrior Cornplanter was in favor of peace, while Red Jacket, the coward, used all his eloquence for war. But Cornplanter as a great brave naturally had the most influence in this case.

And now came a long series of councils between the Americans and Indians. Inevitably what remained of the country of the Six Nations was lopped off from time to time. The Indians would sell their birthright, as they considered the beautiful country over which a few hundred of them roamed and hunted, for a mess of pottage, and there were plenty ready to buy. Every such transaction was done in council, and in council Red Jacket was a great man. There were always a great many preliminaries to these councils. Red Jacket, perhaps, would open the council with a speech of welcome to the American commissioners, thus:

" Brothers! You have travelled long, with tears in your eyes on account of the bad roads and bad season of the year. Besides the disturbances between the bad Indians and our brothers the white people, everything has been trying to prevent your coming and to stop your business and make you lose your way. Thus the big waters might have stopped your coming, and the wars might have stopped you, and sickness might have stopped you. . . . But how could it be that anything bad could have happened to you while you have such important business to transact as we understand you have come on ! You must wipe away those tears occasioned by all the great dangers you have come through. And now we set you on a seat where you can sit up straight, and a seat where you are secure from the fears of your enemies, where you can look around and see all your friends and brothers in peace. Besides, you have come along with your heart and your throat stopped up to keep all that you had to say in your body. But now we open your heart with your brother's hands, and we run our fingers through to open your mouth that you may speak clear."

A great council was held by the United States with the Six Nations in 1794. Sixteen hundred Indians attended this council. Colonel Pickering, the commissioner from the government, had first to console the Indians for the loss of one of their brothers, who had been killed by a white man. According to Indian custom, he figuratively buried the dead and covered his grave with leaves, that it might be no more seen in passing. He had removed the tomahawk from the dead man's head, and now he tore up a great pine-tree, in pantomime. Underneath this he dug a deep hole, in which he placed the hatchet, on top of which he placed stones, and over all planted the tree. Colonel Pickering finally wiped the blood from the Indians' heads, removed the tears from their eyes, and opened the path of peace.

On the following day the celebrated fanatic, Jemima Wilkinson, thrust herself into the council with some of her followers. She professed to be the world's Saviour at his second appearance upon earth, and was living- in the western part of New York State with her proselytes. She is said to have dwelt in fine style, with half a dozen beautiful maidens to wait on her. When she preached she stood in her chamber-door wearing a waistcoat, stock, and white silk cravat. There is an anecdote of Brant with regard to Jemima Wilkinson. This chief had some desire to see the singular woman, and she was of course flattered to have an interview with him. When they met, she began a conversation with him. Brant immediately answered her by a long speech in Mohawk. When he had done, she told him that she did not understand the language. Brant then began to talk volubly in another Indian dialect. Somewhat disconcerted, Jemima objected that she could not understand him. He tried another dialect, but she could not comprehend this. He then began, in a fourth dialect, and she interrupted him, much displeased.

" Madam," said Brant, rising, and this time English, " you are not the person you pretend to be. Jesus Christ can understand one language as well as another." At this he left her.

This woman now thrust herself upon the council. After a speech from the chief Fish Carrier, and an address from a delegation of Quakers who were present, Jemima and her followers dropped upon their knees and made a prayer, after which she addressed the Indians with a medley of Scripture texts and vague ideas of her own. When the council again opened on the following day, the Indian women requested to be heard. They were introduced by Red Jacket, who was evidently quite a favorite with the squaws, as they always chose him to speak for them in any matter in which they had a voice. He now said for them that they washed to remark that they fully agreed with their sachems that the white people had caused the troubles of the Indians. The white people had squeezed them together until it gave them a pain at their hearts, and they thought the white people ought to give back all the lands which they had taken. One of the white women, said Red Jacket, had told the Indians to repent at the last meeting, and the Indian women now called on the white people to repent, for they needed repentance as much as the Indians. The commissioner thanked the Indian women for their speech, and said that he would always be glad to hear from them, but that the white woman who had spoken yesterday had forced herself into the council against his wish.

During the council a man named Johnson appeared as a messenger from Brant. He held secret conferences among the Indians, and mingled with them during the council in a way that excited the suspicions of the American commissioner. He denounced the man as a British spy. The Indians appeared greatly surprised. Cornplanter rose and said that it was astonishing that such an antipathy existed between the Americans and English that they could not bear to sit near each other in an Indian council. He said that the messenger had merely come to remind the Indians of a great council to be held at a future time.

"Captain Brant," added Cornplanter, "sends his compliments to the chiefs at Canandaigua, and says: ' You remember what we agreed upon last year, and the line we marked out. If this line is complied with, peace will take place;' and he desires us to mention this here."

Colonel Pickering knew well what this meant. Brant had recently taken part in the Indian war of the western nations. He agreed with them in claiming the Ohio River for a boundary-line between the whites and Indians, and he wished the Six Nations to do so in this treaty. The Indians had been very successful in routing the armies of Harmer and of St. Clair, and they were now very arrogant in their claims. Colonel Pickering was very angry to have his council thus interfered with by the British, as he considered it. He made a very vehement speech.

"The council-fire grows warm," remarked the Indians. " The sparks fly about very thick." They requested the withdrawal of the white men for a short time, that they might have a consultation. In about half an hour they opened the council-door again and Cornplanter rose to speak. He said that the Indians had discovered that the white people had told them a lie when they said the chain of friendship had been renewed between England and America.

" What shall we do ?" said Cornplanter. " Shall owe shove Johnson off ? Yet this is not agreeable to my mind; for if I had kindled a council-fire, I would suffer a very bad man to sit in it that he might be made better."

The chiefs finally prepared a letter to Brant which they read in council. They said in this that they were sorry that Johnson had not been permitted to remain in council, that he would explain the reason why, that they were determined to adhere to the boundary-lines as they had agreed with him, and that they were "a poor, despised though still an independent people, brought into suffering between two white nations striving which should be the greatest." Colonel Pickering was not at all pleased with this letter. The sparks again flew about the council, but before the matter was settled a Tuscarora runner came in with the intelligence of Wayne's great victory over the western Indians. Immediately matters took a different turn. Success had its usual effect on the Indians.

Cornplanter, however, came into trouble next, probably through the intrigues of Red Jacket, who had an old spite against his brother-chief. Cornplanter had had many private interviews with the commissioner, and this excited the suspicion of the Indians. A chief named Little Billy rebuked Cornplanter for taking so important a part in the councils when he was a war-chief. Cornplanter was on the point of returning home, but Colonel Pickering interfered in his favor.

When the commissioner came to the main business of the council, that of settling the boundary lines, Red Jacket said: " We told you before of the two rusty places on the chain of friendship. . . . We thought you had a sharp file to take off the rust, but we believe it must have been dull, or else you let it slip out of your hands. . . . Although we are but children, we are sharp-sighted, and we can see you want that strip of land along the lake shore for a road, that when you have vessels on the lakes you may have harbors. . . . You are cutting off our land piece by piece. You are a kind-hearted people-seeking your own advantages. . . . We have told you of the rusty part which the file passed over without brightening, and we wish you to take up the file again and rub it very hard."

The colonel told the Indians that it was very necessary to have the strip of land along the lake shore for harbors, but that the Indians were to have a large increase in their annuities for it, and that other concessions would be made.

" Now we are conversing together to make the chain bright," answered Red Jacket. " When we told you what would give us satisfaction, you proposed reserving the piece of land between Cayuga and Buffalo Creek for building houses, but we apprehend you would not only build houses but towns. You told us these houses would be for the accommodation of travellers in the winter, as they cannot go by water in that season, and the travellers would want a staff to help them along the road. . . . We conclude that we do not understand this as the white people do. If we consent to your proposals, we know it will injure us. If these houses should be built, they will tend to scatter us and make us fall in the street by drinking to excess. . . . As soon as the white people come there, they will think the land theirs; for that is the way of white people. . . . I see there are many of your people here now watching with their mouths open to take up this land. If you are a friend to us, then disappoint them. Our patience is spent. Comply with our request." Colonel Pickering made some concessions. The matter was finally settled, and the great council broke up.

Though the Indians were constantly selling their lands, they still dreaded the gradual encroachments of white settlers. Red Jacket, in all the councils, opposed all land sales, and acquired great popularity by this means, while Cornplanter, who honestly favored the sales, incurred all the blame when the Indians came afterwards to regret the loss of their lands.

"We stand on a small island in the bosom of the great waters," said Red Jacket in one of his speeches. " We are encircled, we are encompassed. The evil spirit rides upon the blast, and the waters are disturbed. They rise, they press upon us, and the waves once settled over us, we disappear forever. Who then lives to mourn us ? None. What marks our extermination ? Nothing."

Red Jacket often excited his Indian audience to the highest pitch by such outbursts as this. At one council Mr. Thomas Morris, who was acting for the company which desired to purchase the land of the Senecas, remarked that their lands were of little value in their present uncultivated state. Red Jacket admitted that, but said that it was the knowledge of ownership which the Indians valued.

" That knowledge is everything to us," said he. " It raises us in our own estimation. It creates in our bosoms a proud feeling which elevates us as a nation. Observe the difference between the estimation in which a Seneca and an Oneida are held. We are courted, while the Oneidas are considered a degraded people, fit only to make brooms and baskets. Why this difference ? It is because the Senecas are known as the owners of a broad domain, while the Oneidas are cooped up in a narrow space."

The commissioners who accompanied Mr. Morris at last became impatient of the long- delay of the Indian proceedings. At their desire, Mr. Morris tried to bring matters to a close. He answered a proposal on the part of the Indians, saying it would be better to rake up the council fire at once than to accept such a proposition. Red Jacket sprang to his feet.

" You have now arrived at the point to which I wished to bring you. You told us in your first address that even in the event of our not agreeing to sell our lands, we would part friends. Here, then, is my hand. I now cover up the council fire."

Applauding yells arose from the Indians. It was a most popular act on the part of Red Jacket, and just what the commissioners had least of all wished. After a great deal of trouble and the intervention of the Indian women, who were appealed to and appeased with presents, the council was reopened. Red Jacket, however, did not again attend it. He was drunk during the rest of the proceedings, for the orator was entirely too fond of liquor. He left the responsibility of the inevitable course of the council upon Cornplanter. When Red Jacket talked with the other chiefs, he still kept up his opposition to any sale. He visited Mr. Morris's lodge, however, secretly at night, and told him that in truth he had no objections to the sales, but that he would lose his popularity if he did not oppose them.

The council was finally successful. The sale was made of a great part of the Seneca lands; a treaty was drawn up and ready to be signed by the chiefs. Now it was Red Jacket's especial pride to have his name stand upon every treaty with his nation, whether he was in favor of it or not. In council he grandly refused to put his name on the document in order to appear consistent, but he privately arranged with Mr. Morris to insert his signature afterwards. He wanted a blank left for him, and was especially anxious that it should be near the top, in order that President Washington might see that he was a man of importance among the Indians.

In spite of his political intrigues, Red Jacket made an ostentation of being the most truthful of men. During one council the commissioner was occupied in taking notes while the chief spoke. He paused in the middle of a sentence.

"Look up from the table, brother," said the orator, " and fix your eyes upon my eyes, that you may see that what Sagoyewatha says is the truth and no lie."

During one Indian council Mr. Morris was adopted by the Indians, and Red Jacket gave him his old name, Otetiani. The ceremony was performed one beautiful night when the moon was at her full. It was also the occasion of the Iroquois festival to the moon. The immense concourse of Indians, among whom was the newly-adopted white man, seated themselves upon the ground in a circle. Fish Carrier, a very old Cayuga chief, who was greatly venerated for his bravery and wisdom, made a long address to the moon, throwing tobacco into the fire from time to time as incense. At the close of the speech they all threw themselves upon the earth and made a grunting sound. A war-dance was then begun around a post, which represented the torture-stake. The young warriors who performed the dance were naked except for their breech-cloth, and their backs were chalked white and ornamented with streaks of red. Every once in a while one of them would snatch a blazing brand from the fire and thrust it at the post as though torturing a prisoner. Meanwhile they drank freely of raw rum. They soon began singing their war-songs and boasting of their deeds of prowess and the scalps they had taken. Among the dancers was an Oneida. He struck the post and boasted of the scalps his nation had taken during the Revolutionary war.

Instantly the Senecas began boasting of the scalps they had taken from the Oneidas during the same war, and taunting them as cowards. The old bitter feelings were awakened. Knives and tomahawks were drawn forth, and the quarrel seemed likely to have a serious ending, when Fish Carrier ran forward. He struck the post violently, and said:

"You are all of you a parcel of boys. When you have attained my age, and performed the warlike deeds that I have performed, you may boast what you have done: not till then." He then threw down the post and broke up the dance.

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