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. Born about 1756, Died January 20,1830

AFTER the close of the war, Red Jacket's one purpose was to prevent the encroachment of white men and their customs and religion upon his people. But let him speak never so eloquently against the sale of lands, the Indians would nevertheless sell them and he himself would always sign the treaty. Above all things, Red Jacket hated to see the church and the schoolhouse rise among the Indians. He thought these but the forerunners of the settler with his axe.

Black-coats, as he called the preachers, were his especial detestation. Nevertheless, missionaries gained a very considerable influence among the Senecas. There came to be two distinct parties of Indians, a pagan and a Christian party. The latter was headed by the old chief, Captain Pollard, or Little Billy as he was sometimes called, while Red Jacket, the confirmed old fogy, led the opposition. In this field he was a dauntless warrior. Taking advantage of a law to prevent encroachments upon the Indian reservation, he succeeded once in breaking up the Seneca mission for the time. Red Jacket was asked why he had such a hatred for the missionaries.

" Because," answered the chief, " they do us no good. If they are useful to the white people, why do they send them among the Indians? The white people are surely bad enough to need the labor of every one who can make them better. These men know we do not understand their language. We cannot read their book; they tell us different stories about what it contains, and we believe that they make the book talk to suit themselves."

Red Jacket lost ten or eleven children by consumption. A lady once asked him whether he had any children living.

"Red Jacket was once a great man, and in favor with the Great Spirit," sorrowfully answered the chief. " He was a lofty pine among the smaller trees of the forest. But, after years of glory, he degraded himself by drinking the firewater of the white man. The Great Spirit has looked upon him in anger, and his lightning has stripped the pine of its branches."

Red Jacket married a second wife. She was the widow of a chief named Two Guns, and a woman of fine face and bearing. She became interested in Christianity, and thought of joining the church: whereupon Red Jacket was enraged. He said that they had lived happily together, but that now, if she joined the party to which her husband was opposed, he would leave her. His wife, however, joined the church, and Red Jacket immediately left her and went to the other reservation, where he lived with another woman. He had a little daughter of whom he was very fond. She used to sit on his knees and amuse him with her chatter. She missed her father a great deal, and constantly teased her mother to take her to him. Red Jacket's wife finally took the little girl to the reservation where he lived, though she herself refused to see the chief. The little gill ran to him and threw her arms about his neck. He was much touched, and told her that he was coming home, that he was sorry he had left her mother, and that he had bought her some broadcloth and beads. When she was ready to go home he took her to the door of the cabin where her mother was, but did not enter. The little girl cried pitifully as she parted with her father. In a few weeks Red Jacket returned to his home, promising never to interfere with his wife's religion, and be kept his promise. Before he had left her, his wife was obliged to leave her blanket outdoors where she could slip out and get it without her husband's knowledge when she wanted to go to meeting. Now he would call his daughter early Sunday morning, saying:

" Come, it is Sunday, you know. Get up and get the work all done, so as to go to meeting with your mother. Always go with your mother."

When Lafayette visited Buffalo in 1825, among the crowds who thronged to see him was Red Jacket. When the chief was introduced to Lafayette, he said:

" Do you remember being at the treaty of peace with the Six Nations at Fort Stanwix ?"

" Yes," answered the Frenchman, " I have not forgotten that great council. By the way, what became of that young man who opposed so eloquently the burying of the tomahawk ?"

" He is before you," said Red Jacket.

" Time has worked great changes upon us both," said Lafayette.

" Ah," replied Red Jacket, " time has not been so severe upon you as it has upon me. It has left you a fresh countenance and hair to cover your head ; while to me-behold !" The chief pulled a handkerchief from his head and disclosed its baldness The attendants laughed at the simplicity of the Indian in supposing Lafayette's wig to be his own hair. Some one explained to Red Jacket how white men repaired the deficiency of hair. Thereupon Red Jacket said, laughingly, that he should have to supply himself with a head-covering by taking some one's scalp.

He pretended to understand no language but his own, and entertained a great dislike for English. He would not reply to any of Lafayette's questions until his interpreter had translated them into Seneca.

When Red Jacket was a very old man, he was invited to the launching of a schooner which was named after him. He christened the vessel with a short speech.

" You have a great name given to you," said he, addressing the ship, "strive to deserve it. Be brave and daring. Go boldly into the great lakes and fear neither the swift wind nor the strong waves. Be not frightened nor overcome by them, for it is in resisting storms and tempest that I, whose name you bear, obtained my renown. Let my great example inspire you to courage and lead you to glory."

A young French count who was making a tour in America visited Buffalo, and, hearing that Red Jacket was one of the wonders of the town, sent the chief a request that he would visit him at Buffalo.

" Tell the young man," said Red Jacket to the messenger, " that if he wishes to see the old chief, he may find him with his nation, where other strangers pay their respects to him."

The young nobleman sent to say that he was tired from his journey ; that he had come all the way from France to see the Seneca orator, and that after putting himself to so much trouble he thought Red Jacket would not refuse to meet him at Buffalo.

" Tell him," answered the chief, " that it is very strange he should come so far to see me and then stop short within seven miles of my lodge."

The count yielded. He visited Red Jacket at his cabin, where the chief accepted an invitation "to dinner with him at Buffalo. The young gentleman was very much delighted with the proud chief, and insisted that he was a greater wonder than Niagara Falls.

A wealthy gentleman who was visiting Buffalo once invited Red Jacket to come and see him. This time the chief dressed himself with the utmost pains and went to see him. Now this gentleman's ideas were scarce while his words were many. He had a habit of standing very close to a man and chattering with immense volubility. Red Jacket felt greatly disappointed. After a short conversation, in which he got no chance to utter a word, but stood listening to the empty gabble, he put his face up to the man's ear and exclaimed, " Cha! cha ! cha!" and walked away. It is said that the astonished talker was silent for a longer time than he had ever been known to be before.

He could with difficulty manage a knife and fork at table. He made every effort at dinners of ceremony, however, to act properly. He once told a gentleman that when he dined with Washington a man ran off with his knife and fork every now and then and returned with others.

" Now," said Red Jacket, " what was that for?"

The gentleman told him that there were a great many kinds of dishes, each cooked in a different manner, and that the plates, knifes, and forks were changed every time a new dish was brought on.

"Ah," said Red Jacket thoughtfully, "is that it? You must then suppose that the plates and knives and forks retain the taste of the cookery ?"

" Yes."

" Have you then," demanded the chief, " any method by which you can change your palates every time you change your plate ? for I think the taste would remain on the palate longer than it would on the plate."

" We are in the habit of washing that away by drinking wine," answered the gentleman.

"Ah," said Red Jacket, "now I understand it. I was persuaded that so general a custom among you must be founded in reason, and I only regret that when I was in Philadelphia I did not understand it. The moment the man went off with my plate, I would have drunk wine until he brought me another; for although I am fond of eating, I am more so of drinking."

Red Jacket was extremely fond of sugar. He was once at the table of Captain Jones, the interpreter. Mrs. Jones prepared his coffee without sugar, for a joke.

" My son," said the chief, looking at the captain severely, " do you allow your squaw thus to trifle with your father ?" The children giggled. " And do you allow your children to make sport of their chief ?" added Red Jacket. Apologies were made, and the sugar-bowl was handed to the offended chief. He filled his cup to the brim with sugar, and ate it out by the spoonful with the utmost gravity.

Red Jacket could see no justice in the white man's court of law. An Indian who had broken into a house and stolen some small article was indicted for burglary. Red Jacket made a long speech in court in his defence. But the man was sentenced to imprisonment for life, much to the orator's disgust. After the proceedings were over, Red Jacket left the courthouse in company with the lawyers. Across the street was the sign of a printing-office with the arms of the State, representing Liberty and Justice. Red Jacket stopped and pointed to the sign.

"What him call?" demanded the chief.

" Liberty," answered the bystanders.

" Ugh !" said Red Jacket.

" What him call ?" pointing to the other figure upon the sign.

"Justice," was the answer.

" Where him live now ?" inquired the chief.

Red Jacket was one day met going the opposite direction from an execution to which everybody was crowding. He was asked why he, too, did not go.

"Fools enough there already. Battle is the place to see men die," he answered.

He was once questioned as to his opinion of a chief named Hot Bread, who was remarkable for gluttony.

"Waugh!" exclaimed the orator. "He has a little place at Connawaugus-big enough for him. Big man here," pointing to his stomach, " but very small here," touching his forehead.

As a young man Red Jacket had always refused to sit for his picture, saying that when he died all that belonged to him should die with him. His vanity was at last appealed to, however, it being represented that his portrait was wanted to be placed alongside of those of the great men of the United States. He consented to sit under these circumstances, and a number of portraits were afterwards made of him. While in New York once he sat for Weir. The Indians who accompanied him stretched themselves on the floor of the studio and smoked while the painting went forward. Red Jacket watched with the greatest interest the growth of the picture. When his medal became visible in the picture he was pleased, but when he saw a faithful picture of his fine high forehead, of which he was very proud, he sprang up, grasped the artist's hand, and cried, " Good ! good !"

Light and agile. Red Jacket loved the chase. As a young man he had often hunted in the Genesee Valley. As an old man he visited that country, and entering the forest he resolved to have one more hunt. He had not gone far, however, before he saw an opening; a fence was in the way, and white men could be seen in the distance ploughing. The chief sadly turned in another direction. He had buried himself deep in the woods, as he supposed, when he again ran up against a fence and another white man's field. " The old man sat down and wept.

Red Jacket's old age was broken by intemperance and embittered by his struggles with the Christian party. He was indeed once formally deposed by his enemies. But the old Indian's spirit arose. He called a council of his people. Once again he spoke with his old eloquence, and he was reinstated. But his faculties fast failed after this outburst. As his health declined he knew that he must die. He visited the cabins of his friends, and talked with them of the affairs of his people.

" I am about to leave you," he said, " and when I am gone and my longings shall no longer be heard or regarded, the craft and avarice of the white roan will prevail. Many winters have I breasted the storm, but I am an aged tree and can stand no longer. My leaves are fallen, my branches are withered, and I am shaken by every breeze. Soon my aged trunk will be prostrate, and the foot of the exulting foe of the Indian may be placed upon it in safety; for I have none who will be able to avenge such an indignity. Think not I mourn for myself. I go to join the spirits of my fathers, where age cannot come; but my heart fails me when I think of my people, who are so soon to be scattered and forgotten.

" Bury me by the side of my former wife, and let my funeral be according to the customs of our nation. Let me be dressed and equipped as my fathers were, that their spirits may rejoice at my coming. Be sure that my grave be not made by a white man; let them not pursue me there."

Almost the last thing that the old chief did was to call a council of both the parties among his people and recommend that they should resolve to quarrel no more, but each man believe according to his own way. He was taken mortally sick during this council. Holding a bottle in his hand containing some mysterious liquid which he believed would secure him a happy passage to the other world, the old chief bravely met death at seventy-eight years of age.


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