Selected Indians of New York State Part I


Many leading names among the sachems, warriors and wise men of the Senecas are more or less intimately associated with this region, and other persons, well known to the pioneers, whose career was identified with the Indians here, claim mention in these pages.

Red Jacket

Red Jacket, Sa-go-ye-wat-hah,* lived, for a 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 defense. 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 Christianize 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 imperturbable 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 corpulence, 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.

Henry O'Bale

Henry O 'Bale, Gas-so- wah-doh, * was a son of Cornplanter and was also born at Canawaugus. He was generally addressed as Major O'Bale. In person he was a portly and fine looking, and his manners were not without polish. He was placed at school in New Jersey by Benjamin Bouton, and graduated at Dartmouth, college. He was somewhat boastful of his courage. In early times, while at the Mansion house in Avon, some question arose one day between him and Doctor Ensworth. O 'Bale was told that nothing short of a duel would adjust the matter. The ground was paced off, and principals and seconds took their places.
Word was given and O'Bale fired. The Doctor reserved his charge and walking close up to his opponent fired point blank at his heart. O'Bale, supposing himself shot, fell into the arms of his second, but recovered on learning that the pistols had been loaded with blank charges, a fact of which the Doctor had been duly apprised. While not wanting in honesty, O'Bale's business transactions were not always marked by that scrupulous promptitude so agreeable to early merchants. Colonel Lyman had trusted O'Bale for goods and went down to Canawaugus to remind him that the debt was past due. "Oh, yes," said the Major, "I will pay you at once. Mr. Hosmer owes me. You know him of course, and I '11 go to him and get the money." He went, but forgot to return, and, after two or three similar attempts, the debt was earned to loss account. Of his advantages of parentage and education the Major did not fully avail himself. He was fond of the Genesee country and was one of the last of the natives to quit this region.

Handsome Lake

Handsome Lake, Ga-nyu-da-i-yuh, the Peace Prophet, was a half-brother of Cornplanter, as already stated.He stood high with his people both as a medicine-man and a spiritual guide. Mr. Horsford was told of a young Indian girl of Squakie Hill, who was cured by him of a dangerous illness. All remedies failing, the friends dispatched a runner to the Prophet, with the clothes of the afflicted squaw. He took them, laid a handful of tobacco upon the fire, and, as it burned, offered an address to the Great Spirit. After a moment's silence he observed, looking at the clothes, "This affliction is a punishment to her for wickedly drowning a nest of young robins, and, a few hours later, for repeating the offence. Two young deer must be killed a yearling buick and yearling doe the whole of both must be boiled at once and the entire village be called to the feast, and then to dance." Some days were spent in finding the deer, when the directions of the Prophet were complied with, and the girl recovered at once. In person the Prophet was of medium size, of goodly presence, and of modest and quiet demeanor.

Little Beard

Little Beard, Si-gwa-ah-doh-gwih, resided at the town to which he gave his name. He was noted both as a warrior and councilor, and for great firmness and zeal, and, though not an orator, was a fluent talker. Physically, he was a favorable specimen of the Indian chieftain, rather below the medium size, yet straight and firm. In faith a pagan, he always awarded respectful attention to the views of Christian teachers. Border annals show how fierce his nature was, yet, after the Revolution, he proved friendly to the pioneers and was esteemed by them for his good faith. No Indian was better informed, none more sociable than he, and with none could an hour be more profitably spent. He conversed with good sense on the events of the colonial wars, and the future of his nice, and though it is a fact well established that he not only consented to the death of the scouts, Boyd and Parker, and quite likely suggested the exquisite tortures to which these devoted soldiers were subjected, yet, it must be recollected, he was chief of the village menaced by Sullivan's army. Moreover, he took these two men in the act of securing information that would enable the American General to march directly to the destruction of his peoples' homes, possibly to put to death any of them who chanced to fall into his hands, facts which serve to mitigate, perhaps, though by no means to excuse this act of almost unparalleled barbarity. In a drunken quarrel at the old Stimson tavern in Leicester, in 1806, Little Beard was thrown from the outer door, and, falling upon the steps, received an injury from which, as he was advanced in years, he shortly died. The great eclipse, which occurred soon after his death, filled the Indians with superstitious fears. The manner of his taking off could not but give him offence, the natives thought, and they imagined he was about to darken the sun", so that their corn could not grow. The hunters assembled and shot arrows and bullets at the obscured luminary, while others screamed, shouted, and drummed, until the brightness was fully


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


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