Selected Indians of New York State Part II


Tall Chief

Tall Chief, A-wa-nis-ha-dek-hah, lived alternately at Squakie Hill and at a group of five huts known as Tall Chief s Village, located across the river, on Murray's hill, near Mt. Morris. The spring whence he got his supply of water, is in use and still bears his name, and a bed of tansey, planted by him, still flourishes near the site of his lodge. Tall Chief was favored by nature with more than ordinary grace of person. He is said to have resembled Henry Clay in demeanor. Straight as an arrow and quite senatorial in deportment, he was always cool and self-possessed. An Indian of his village had killed a companion. Believing that Tall Chief could aid in securing the guilty man, the authorities at once informed him of the deed, but he did nothing. They at length urged him to act. Yes," said he, "may be, time-by, somebody ketch um, kill um, may be, can't say." But he performed better than he promised, and the culprit was duly secured and handed over. Tall Chief's name appears to the Big Tree treaty, and is otherwise associated with the business affairs of his nation. The pioneers recollect him with peculiar interest. His habits, some of them at least, showed the freedom of forest birth. Colonel Lyman, having an errand with him one warm day, called at his hut. The squaws of his household were found sitting on the ground, enjoying the shade of a great tree. On asking for the chief they pointed to another tree, near at hand, where he was seen lying upon his back quite naked, barring a cloth about the loins. The visitor was graciously received, though the chief did not offer to rise. After the object of the call was effected, he politely invited the Colonel to remain for a visit. The females exhibited no surprise, though the visitor was inclined to regard the chief s attitude as somewhat odd for a personage of his consequence. Tall Chief dined with Washington on the occasion of a visit of a deputation of his nation, sent to smoke the peace pipe with the President. After a ceremonious dinner a big pipe was lighted and Washington tried unsuccessfully to draw the smoke through the long stem. He handed it to Horatio Jones, who succeeded better. The President then took a whiff, and passed the pipe to Tall Chief, to whom he paid marked attention, and then to each in turn. The dignified Seneca was always proud of referring to this occasion. He possessed the secret Indian remedy for the rattle-snake's bite, and was often sent for, far and near, to apply it, and usually with signal success. In 1828, Tall Chief removed to Tonawanda, where he died not long afterward.

William Tall Chief

Straight-back, so named because of his erect walk and stately manner, was a son of Tall Chief, and seems to have acquired no little of the respect held by the whites for his father. William Tall Chief, was another son. Both were born at Squakie Hill. His personal appearance was quite striking, of "splendid physique," says one who knew him. He was a man of integrity, but more noted as a hunter than a councilor. In 1846, William went to Kansas with a party of Senecas, to settle upon the lands there set apart for the New York Indians. On their way thither, several of the band contracted ship-fever on board a Missouri river steam boat, and nearly fifty fell victims to the disease. Dissatisfied with the country, William set out to return, but died on the way, of consumption and was buried at Beaver, Ohio. No stone marks his resting-place. We saw his widow, who was a granddaughter of the White woman, and her grown-up children, in the fall of 1865. They were possessed of striking personal appearance and seemed greatly interested in hearing about the former home of their relatives on the Genesee, recollecting much that had been told them of early days hereabouts. The beauty of Conesus lake, and the fertility of the Mount Morris flats, were facts that seemed to dwell most freshly in their memories.

Big Tree

Big Tree, Ga-on-dah-go-waah' was a useful friend of the American cause in the Revolution, and a leading adviser in all treaties and councils of the Senecas. He resided many years at Big Tree village, which took his name. In person he was grave and dignified. In the summer of 1778, Washington sent Big Tree to the towns of his tribe along the Genesee, in the hope that his personal influence and eloquence might win the Senecas to the cause of the colonies. He found the villages of Kanadaseaga; and Little Beardstown, "crowded with warriors from remote tribes. The Senecas at first seemed inclined to hearken to his wishes, but learning by a spy that the Americans were about to invade their country, all flew to arms, and Big Tree put himself at their head, 'determined,' as he said, ' to chastise an enemy that would presume to encroach upon his people's territory. His mission proving unsuccessful, he returned to the continental army. At a meeting of the commissioners of Indian affairs held in Albany in March, 1787, Big Tree and four other Indian chiefs represented that nation, and, in the same year, his name was affixed to the famous John Livingston lease, a document forming a part ofa grand scheme to secure all the Indian lands in the state.

The constitution of 1777 forbade the sale of Indian lands, but by securing a lease for nine hundred and ninety-nine years, as was the purpose of the contrivers, the inhibition was to be avoided. The lessees, known by their title of The New York Genesee Company of Adventurers, numbered eighty persons, among whom were several members of the legislature, county officers and leading citizens. Their plan, though long maturing, was doomed to total failure, and the project holds no enviable place in history. Little Beard and Hot Bread were also signers of the lease, as indeed were many others of the Iroquois leaders. The legislature must needs pass upon the lease. But here its design was readily penetrated and its summary rejection followed. John Livingston himself, and two other partners in the company, held seats in the Assembly, and one had a seat in the Senate. In 1788 Big Tree was invited by Governor Clinton to attend a council at Fort Stanwix, and in the following year, he, together with Brant, Little Beard and Hot Bread addressed a letter to the Governor, forcibly presenting their grievances. In December, 1790, a large deputation, consisting, among others, of Big Tree, Cornplanter and Half Town, visited Washington, at Philadelphia, and presented him with an address which has been preserved as a line specimen of Indian eloquence. In 1791 the legislature of Pennsylvania granted to Big Tree a patent to an island in the Alleghany river for a home, but his death occurred before he took formal possession of it. He lamented the disaster to St. Clair' s army in the Miami expedition, and especially, the brutal treatment received by General Richard Butler, who was scalped and tomahawked while he lay wounded and bleeding. The Senecas hereabouts never forgave the deed, and Big Tree was heard to say that "he would have two Miami scalps in revenge for this cowardly act." While in Philadelphia, in 1792, with a large delegation of chiefs and warriors of the Six nations, he fell sick at his lodgings and died after a few hours illness, of surfeit, a victim, says Turner, to the excessive hospitality extended to the delegation, and was buried the following Sunday with something like public honors.

A son of Big Tree was quite noted as a runner and wrestler. Colonel William Jones often wrestled with him, and being somewhat younger and less muscular, generally found himself undermost at the end of the scuffle. At one of the early-day gatherings, the Indian, as usual, challenged him. This time Jones managed to throw the native, who was greatly offended, and jumping up, drew from his belt a little tomahawk which he usually carried. This he raised and aimed at his antagonist. The by-standers were excited, but Jones, who remained cool, taunted him with cowardice for threatening to strike an unarmed man who had always till now been unlucky in these bouts. The Indian saw that he was wrong, and, dropping his weapon, stepped forward to Jones and grasped him by the hand. The two continued attached friends, though neither ever renewed the challenge.

Black Chief

Black Chief, Tha-on-dah-diis, resided at Squakie Hill where he died. His swarthy complexion procured him his English name. He signalized himself in war as well as in peace, and enjoyed, in a large degree, the confidence and respect of his people. He
had four sons of giant size, one of whom was called Jim Washington. Black Chief is recollected by the younger portion of early settlers as sedate and taciturn. " All my ideas of savage barbarity," says one, " were expressed in a single look of his." He had an only daughter, whose generous nature and unusual grace of person made her a great favorite. After her father' s death the tribe paid her peculiar honor. The Squakie Hill Indians held to a superstition that during her life-time, the Iroquois would regain their ancient place among the nations ; hence, no kindness toward her was omitted. Her path was often literally strewn with flowers, and the finest venison and rarest fruits found their way to her hut. A pestilence passed over the villages, and many died, but so long as she remained unharmed, the natives could bear their personal afflictions with resignation. The plague at length died away, and general health returned. But now, she sickened, and, although the wisest medicine men, even the Prophet himself, exerted their best powers, she died. The light that had been so beautiful in their eyes went out. Grief, for many days filled the villages, and all that affection could suggest was done to indicate their sorrow. Her remains were carried to a platform in a fine grove and placed in a sitting posture. The rose and myrtle were scattered about the funeral couch, and corn in the ear, mint and costly furs, were hung around the lifeless form or decorated her place of burial. Fires were lighted at night and watchers relieved each other at all hours.
When it was no longer possible to keep her from interment, she was buried with every mark of regret. The quick fancy of the Indians seems to have invested this girl with, more than mortal purity and sweetness.

Article Name: Selected Indians of New York State Part II
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY: A History of Livingston County, New York by Lockwood Lyon; Geneseo; Edward E. Doty 1876
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