Monday, September 8, 2008

A Little Taste Of History (33)

Topic: Selected Indians of New York State #1

Red Jacket

Red Jacket, Sa-go-ye-wat-hah,* lived, fora time, on the Ewing place, just south of Fall Brook and half a mile east of the Genesee. His relations with tribesmen along the river were intimate and his visits here frequent and prolonged . His sagacity and wisdom are as well known as his great oratorical gifts. In these respects, this noted chieftain had no superior among the best of his race. He was not a warrior, though he led a company of Senecas against the British in the war of 1812 ; but he was a negotiator, the diplomat of his nation. Toward the close of life he became intemperate. On one occasion, the government having business with the Indians, sent an agent to Buffalo, who there met Red Jacket as the representative of the Senecas. The day fixed upon came, but the chief failed to put in an appearance. Horatio Jones, who was to act as interpreter, after a long search, found him in a low tavern quite drunk. The porter, who was about shutting up the house for the night, was preparing to put him out of doors when Jones interposed.

As soon as the effects of the liquor were slept off, the chief wanted more, but was denied. He was reminded of his neglect of the public business, and of the regret his course must cause the President. Red Jacket's under lip dropped for a moment, a peculiarity of his when annoyed ; then, raising himself in his stately way, he said, with a motion of his hand as if to wave off the reproach, "all will blow over, I guess." In a quarrel at Canandaigua in early days, an Indian killed a white man. A rising young lawyer, whose subsequent business career was a distinguished one, conducted the prosecution, Red Jacket the defence. In his appeal to the jury, the orator of nature rose to high eloquence, and, though speaking through an interpreter, jury, court, and spectators were all won to his cause. Captain Jones said it was quite impossible for him to preserve the full force and beauty of this address.

The opposing advocate never again appeared at the bar, for, said he, " if a heathen red-skin's voice can so bewitch men's reason, what call is there for either argument or law." Red Jacket obstinately refused to use the English language, and was a pagan in religion, manifesting, through life, an unyielding hostility to the efforts of missionaries to christianise his people. Thatcher says a young clergyman once made a zealous effort to enlighten the chief in spiritual matters. He listened attentively. When it came his turn, he said, " If you white people murdered the Saviour, make it up for yourselves. We had nothing to do with it. Had he come among us we should have treated him better." He retained his prejudice against the Christian religion down to a short time before his death, when, it is believed, his views underwent a radical change, and he died in the faith and was buried with Christian rites. Dining one day at Horatio Jones's, Red Jacket emptied a imp of suit into his tea, mistaking it for sugar. The mistake passed without remark, though not unnoticed by the guests. The chief, however, coolly stirred the beverage until the salt was dissolved and then swallowed the whole in his own imperturable way, giving not the least sign that it was otherwise than palatable. Red Jacket was not sufficiently identified with this region to justify a formal sketch of him here, but it will not be out of place to refer to the fate that awaited his bones. At death, his remains were buried in the Indian grounds on Buffalo creek, a simple marble slab marking the spot. By degrees, relic hunters had clipped away the memorial stone until little or nothing remained to indicate the resting place of the famous chieftain. At length an unauthorized person of his own race* exhumed his bones and carried them to Buffalo. A Seneca, who chanced then to be in the city, took possession and carried them to the Cattaraugus reservation to a female relative of Red Jacket's, who placed them in a pine chest under her bed. Thus far the friends have declined to surrender them to the Buffalo Historical Society, who have secured a spot in the beautiful cemetery near that city for the interment of several noted Senecas, and design, when all are gathered, to erect an elegant memorial over their remains.


Cornplanter Ga-yant-hwah-geh, was a leading chieftain and one of the wisest and best of Seneca notables. As a councilor, indeed, none of his race was better esteemed. Canawaugus, near Avon, had the honor of being his birth-place ; though, in after years, he usually resided on the Alleghany river, yet he remained closely identified through life, by consanguinity and otherwise, with the Indians of the Genesee. He was partly white. The Indian boys early took notice that his skin was more fair than theirs. He named the matter to his mother, who told him that his father was a white trader named Abell, or O ' Bale, who lived near Albany.After growing up, he sought out his father and made himself known. The father gave him victuals to eat at his house, but " no provisions on the way home." He gave me neither kettle nor gun, nor did he tell me that the United States were about to rebel against Great Britain," said the much offended half-blood. Cornplanter was among the first to adopt the white man's costume, and in latter years, might easily have been mistaken for a well-to-do farmer. He was of medium height, inclining to corpulency, though late in life he became quite thin in person ; was easy in manners and correct in morals. His face was expressive and his eye dark and penetrating. He ranked above Red Jacket as a warrior and was little inferior to him as an orator. He was at Braddock's defeat, where Washington, then a colonial major, first distinguished himself. He took part against the colonies in the Revolution, and, after the close of the war down to Wayne's victory in 1794, his attitude was at times quite equivocal. He held the original papers and treaties of the Senecas, which he often carried about with him in a pair of saddle-bags, to silence disputes or to assert the rights of his people. On one occasion Red Jacket was boasting of what he had said at certain treaties, when Cornplanter quietly added, "Yes, but we told you what to say." He was a man singularly upright in all relations. Horatio Jones said, " he was one of the best of men to have on your side, and there you would be sure to find him if he thought yours the right side, but it was deucedly unlucky if he thought you wrong." He was much older than Red Jacket and looked, with pardonable jealousy, upon that rising young orator. (20)

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