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 visited Philadelphia in 1792. While there. President Washington presented him with a large silver medal, on which Washington, in military clothes, was represented as handing a peace-pipe about four feet long -- to a conventional Indian with a tuft of plumes, growing out of the top of his head, while a white man was ploughing with a yoke of oxen in the background. Indians prefer ornaments of silver to gold, for they are more becoming- to their red skin. Red Jacket prized this medal very highly. He wore it on all state occasions. Nevertheless, sad to relate, the beloved medal was more than once in pawn for whiskey.

While in Philadelphia, each member of the deputation of chiefs, of which Red Jacket was one, was presented with a military suit and cocked hat by General Knox on the part of the government. When Red Jacket's suit was offered him he sent back word to General Knox that he could not wear such a suit, for he was not a warrior but a peace-chief. He requested that a citizen's suit might be given him; meantime he would keep the military suit until he received the other. When a suit of plain clothes was brought him, Red Jacket accepted it, but refused to give up the military suit, saying that though he could not now wear the military suit, when war came he would join the warriors and then he could wear it with propriety.

When Red Jacket returned from his visits to the capital he was accustomed to exaggerate the honors with which he had been received by Washington, in order to impress the Indians with his importance. He would gather his admirers around him, and would play over the whole scene of his reception like a child. At one time he arranged the Indians in a semicircle, and, taking the cocked hat which had been given to him, went around the company bowing to the Indians and representing President Washington. He then repeated various compliments which he pretended the President had made to him.

Cornplanter, about this time, began to find that he was losing all his influence among the Indians. Using a favorite trick of the savages, he tried to retrieve his loss and at the same time overthrow his dangerous rival. He persuaded his brother to become a prophet. The prophet began by preaching morality. He was so successful as to induce the Onondagas, who had been great drinkers, to give up drinking almost entirely. He finally began to work upon the superstitions of the Indians. He pointed out several witches among them. Such was their superstition that these would have been summarily executed had not white people interfered in their behalf. Last of all the impostor pounced upon Red Jacket as a witch. The excitement ran so high that the chief's life was in great danger. He was tried in solemn council. Very likely he was accused of spitting fire at night or some other wizard's performance. At any rate, Red Jacket arose and made his own defence. For three hours he spoke with the most wonderful eloquence, moving the Indians in spite of themselves. They were divided. A bare majority was in favor of Red Jacket, and his life was saved.

Red Jacket was not above the same superstition, however. Though he did not believe himself to be a witch, he caused the execution of at least one Indian for witchcraft. Later in his life he had occasion to defend the Indians for their belief in witchcraft. A Seneca Indian had pined and died, apparently without cause. Indian medicine-men with their pow wows could do him no good. The woman who had nursed him was decided to be a witch. She fled into Canada. She was followed by the Indians ; a trial was held among them, and she was pronounced guilty and brought back into the Seneca country. The heart of the Indian who was appointed to execute her failed him. A chief, known as Tommy Jemmy, took the duty upon himself and killed the woman. The white settlers were shocked at the murder, and Tommy Jemmy was arrested and thrown into prison at Buffalo. His trial produced a great deal of excitement. The defence held that the woman had been executed according to the laws of the Indians, with which the whites had no right to interfere. Red Jacket, who was naturally an advocate, and more than once pleaded the cause of an Indian in a court of law, was called as a witness and examined with regard to Indian laws and customs. The counsel for the prosecution, wishing to exclude his testimony, asked Red Jacket if he believed in a God.

" More truly than one can who could ask me such a question," indignantly answered the chief. He was also asked what rank he held among the Indians.

" Look at the papers which the white men keep the most carefully; they will tell you what I am," Red Jacket sarcastically answered, referring to the treaties by which the whites had acquired their lands. During his examination the chief saw that the lawyers and bystanders were ridiculing the Indian superstition.

"What!" burst out Red Jacket, who knew more than they thought he did. Do you denounce us as bigots and fools because we still believe that which you yourselves believed two centuries ago ? Your black-coats thundered this doctrine from the pulpits, your judges pronounced it from the bench and sanctioned it with the formalities of law ; and would you now punish our unfortunate brother for adhering to the faith of his fathers and of yours ? Go to Salem ! Look at the records of your own government, and you will find that hundreds have been executed for the very crime which has called forth the sentence of condemnation against this woman and drawn down upon her the arm of vengeance. What have our brothers done more than the rulers of your people have done? What crime has this man committed by executing in a summary way the laws of his country and the command of the Great Spirit ?" The prisoner was in the end liberated.

Meantime Cornplanter's influence waned more and more after Red Jacket's victory over him in the matter of witchcraft. He lived to a very old age, but he finally resigned his chieftainship In a very odd way. It was one of the strange customs among the Iroquois to guess dreams. An Indian with a melancholy face would go from cabin to cabin and ask the inmates to guess a dream which he had had. If they gave him an interpretation which suited him, he would accept it and act accordingly. Cornplanter had a dream which puzzled him. Almost naked in midwinter, he went from house to house to have his dream guessed. On the third day he found an Indian who said:

"You shall henceforth be called Onono, or cold. You have been a chief long enough for the good of your nation. You have grown too old to be of much further use as counsellor or warrior, and you must appoint a successor. If you wish to please the Great Spirit, you must remove from your house and sight every article made by the white man."

Cornplanter listened earnestly and accepted this as the interpretation of his dream. The presents which he had received from the various Presidents of the United States he collected together, among which were a military suit, a sword, and a medal. He solemnly burned them all. His tomahawk only he reserved, and sent it to the Indian whom he had chosen as his successor.

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