America’s Shame: Forgotten Warriors on Memorial Day

[This is a rewritten version of a diary first posted for Memorial Day 2008.]

My stepfather’s brother died with other Marines on the beach at Guadacanal during World War II.

My best friend in my high school days, Manny Miller, was killed in the early days of the Vietnam War.

These men will be honored on Monday in Memorial Day ceremonies along with nearly a million of their soldier, sailor, marine, coast guard, air force and militia compatriots who gave their lives in military service. Technically, Memorial Day is a remembrance of all who lived before us, those who gave their lives in military service or not. But its origins among formerly enslaved African Americans as Decoration Day and long-standing tradition continue to make it a day to take special note of those who lost their lives while in the military.

No distinction is made between the hundreds of thousands who died fighting in wars most Americans would consider righteous and the hundreds of thousands who were killed in the furtherance of bad causes or died in vain because their criminal or reckless leaders sent them into harm’s way for greed, stupidity or empire. Those who fought in gray uniforms in a war of secession are given the same reverence, the same moments of silence, the same commemoration of sacrifice as those who wore blue into battle.

It doesn’t matter whether they were white boys from the First Tennessee Infantry Regiment who fell in the land-grabbing war with Mexico in 1847, black soldiers of the 93rd Infantry Division fighting Germans in the war to end all wars, or Japanese-Americans of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team slugging their way through Italy while their relatives lived incarcerated in camps back home.

It doesn’t matter whether their name was Hernández, or Hansen, or Hashimoto. It makes no never mind whether they caught enemy shrapnel or a bullet from friendly fire. No difference if they were drafted or volunteered. Nor whether they died fighting for liberty more than 200 years ago at


Southern Cheyenne

(1839-June 25, 1876)

Bunker Hill or crushing it more than 100 years ago in the boondocks of the Philippines. On Memorial Day all American warriors who lost their lives are honored because they did lose their lives.  

With one exception.

My great-great-great-great-great uncle was killed by U.S. soldiers during the Second Seminole War. Other distant relatives were killed during the Third Seminole War. Killed for trying to hold onto freedom, land, the right to self-determination. They get no recognition on Memorial Day.

On the hand, whether they killed warriors and women on the banks of the Pease River in Texas, the Washita River in Kansas, Sand Creek in Colorado or Wounded Knee Creek in South Dakota; whether they fought Shawnee in Indiana, Asakiwaki in Wisconsin, Lakota and Cheyenne in Montana, Chiricahua in Arizona, Nez Perce in Idaho or Modocs in California, the men in blue who were killed in the Indian Wars are among those who will be honored Monday.

“Peace through Unity” sculpture at the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument

(Photo: Richard E. Miller)

But the thousands of warriors they killed – the ancestors of us “original” Americans – aren’t counted for the ultimately futile but unhesitating sacrifice they made fighting to keep their people free. On Memorial Day, they are invisible. Monuments to the Rebel dead can be found in practically every town of the Confederacy. Memorials to Indian resistance are next to non-existent.

Many Americans of Indian ancestry are, of course, interred in military cemeteries. As far back as the Revolutionary War, Indians have fought in uniform under the Stars and Stripes. But those who died in the century of armed resistance from 1790 to 1890 get no recognition, even though the battlefields where they resisted can be found in nearly every state of the union.

Attempts have been made to correct this. In 2002, the 1909 memorial on the Denver Capitol grounds that honored the 22 soldiers killed as they and their compatriots massacred the southern Arapaho and Cheyenne at Sand Creek got a new plaque to replace the one calling that slaughter a Civil War victory for the Union.

And 19 years ago, after years of vicious racist attacks from foes of the switch, the Custer Battlefield National Monument was renamed Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. Now, intermixed with the 249 white marble 7th Cavalry gravestones are a double handful of red granite gravestones placed at the site since 1999 for fallen Lakota and Cheyenne warriors. An innovative Indian memorial was designed on the theme of “Peace through Unity” and includes a haunting sculpture (see photo). Steps in the right direction. But not nearly enough.

The marker for the Southern Cheyenne battle

chief known as Ve’ho’enohnenehe is one

of a few red granite gravestones added

at the Little Bighorn Battlefield National

Monument since 1999 to honor the fallen

Lakota and Cheyenne warriors there.

(Photo by MB)

Scores of sites throughout America could display memorial statues commemorating events with succinct plaques: From this site in 17– or 18–, the Anishinaabe (or Comanche, or Alibamu) were removed to reservations far from home in ——- after 50 (or 120, or 350) of their number were killed in a surprise attack by the U.S. soldiers, some of whom cut off breasts or scrota for use as trophies and tobacco pouches. Their lands were turned over to settlers, miners and railroad builders and the city of —— was built on their burial grounds.

Monday, when the nation’s war dead are remembered, when we are supposed to put aside political and ethnic divisions for a few moments of introspection, many of our politicians still won’t take a break from the lies – past and current lies – for which too many men and women went prematurely into the ground. Monday, we will hear plenty from many politicians about liberty, freedom and sacrifice associated with American wars, but nothing about the plunder, rapine and imperial machinations associated with some of those wars, the Mexican War, the Philippines War, the Vietnam War, the Iraq War, and, of course, the Indian Wars.

Let me be crystal clear. I’m for moving ahead, for transcendence, Indians and non-Indians alike. We live in the 21st Century, and people alive now bear no responsibility and should carry no guilt for what was done more than a century or two ago.

But Monday is Memorial Day, memory day, and, just as we do not forget the men who froze at Valley Forge or took bullets at Fort Wagner or were blown up at Khe Sanh, there is no excuse for the nation to retreat into convenient amnesia and forget the deaths of those who resisted the theft and genocide led by leaders masquerading as divinely inspired messengers of freedom in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Until the nation remembers all its dead warriors, you’ll pardon me if my Memorial Day reverence is tempered with an undercurrent of rage.

Grand Ronde’s Canoe Journey

Title 1

The Cultural Resources Department of the Confederated Tribes of the Grand Ronde in collaboration with the Willamette Heritage Center at The Mill presented a special exhibition from April 8 to May 30 entitled “Grand Ronde’s Canoe Journey.”

“This exhibition brings to life the cultural importance and heritage of the historic shovelnose canoes used by the Native Peoples to travel throughout the Willamette Valley. These canoes, perfect for the shallow Willamette River, were smaller and more agile than the larger, more familiar Chinook style canoes that plied the Columbia.”

Long House

Like most of the North American Indians, the Indians of coastal Oregon and Washington did not live in tipis. The traditional house form of this region was the long house. Shown above is a model of a typical long house for this area.

Shovelnose Canoe

The shovelnose canoe (shown above) was made from a single log which was split and then hollowed out.


Drum 1

Drum 2

None of the more than 500 Native American languages has a word which can be translated as “art.” Art was not a separate category, but was (and still is) incorporated into everyday life. Thus items used regularly, such as the canoe paddles and the drums shown above, were decorated.



The Northwest Coast tends to be a rainy area and the woven rain hat is one of the major features of the area. In addition, as can be seen in the photos above, the people created jewelry from a variety of materials, including dentalium shells.

Wealth Blades

Obsidian, a type of volcanic glass, was highly prized for make very sharp stone blades. In some instances, such as those shown above, large blades were made as a way of showing wealth. These were (and still are) traded over long distances.

Wood tools

The tools used for making houses and canoes often included some of the wooden tools shown above.

Modern 4

Modern 1

Modern 2

Modern 3

Over the past decade there has been a revitalization of traditional canoe building among the Northwest Coast Nations. Shown above are some of the pictures of the modern canoes from the exhibit.  

The Governor Kieft War

In 1639, the Dutch West India Company resolved to exact tribute from local Indians around New Amsterdam, stating that these Indians were under Dutch protection. Dutch governor Willem Kieft put the taxation proposal this way:

“Whereas the Company is put to great expense both in building fortifications and in supporting soldiers and sailors, we have therefore resolved to demand from the Indians who dwell around here and who heretofore we have protected against their enemies, some contributions in the form of skins, maize and seawan [wampum], and if there be any nation which is not in a friendly way disposed to make such contribution it shall be urged to do so in the most suitable manner.”

Dutch residents who had lived in the area long enough to know the Tappan, Hackinsack, Wickquaesgeck, and Raritan, told the governor that this was the wrong thing to do. The governor, oblivious to the Indian world view, had assumed that the Dutch had purchased the Indians’ land and that the Indians were now under Dutch protection. The Indians, however, did not view the goods they had received as the purchase price of the land, but as a gift which represented the agreement. Both the Indians and the long-time Dutch residents understanding that the agreement involved sharing the land and entering into a defensive alliance.

The following year, Dutch governor Willem Kieft launched an unprovoked attack against the Raritan on Staten Island, New York. This marked the beginning of the Governor Kieft War. The purpose of the war was to reduce the Indians to obedience to the Dutch and to levy tribute.  The presumed excuse of the initial punitive expedition was the theft of some hogs on a Dutch farm in Staten Island. In actuality, the thieves were Dutch, not Indian. Governor Kieft, however, sent a posse to a Raritan village and several Indians were killed. The Raritan responded by attacking the farm where the alleged theft had taken place, burning down the house and killing four farm hands.

Governor Kieft, seeing no Dutch culpability in the Raritan response, issued an edict:

“we have therefore considered it most expedient and advisable to induce the Indians, our allies hereabout, to take up arms.”

Ten fathoms of wampum (seawan) were offered to the friendly Indians for each head of a “hostile” Indian which they brought in. Furthermore, if they brought in the head of any Indians who attacked the farm, then this would increase to 20 fathoms. Soon, Pacham, an Indian from a tribal hostile to the Raritan, came to the guardhouse at Fort Amsterdam holding aloft a stick from which dangled a human hand. Pacham then declared to Governor Kieft that the hand belonged to the Raritan chief who had ordered the attack on De Vries’ farm. Kieft felt that his plan to use Indian allies against the Raritan had succeeded.

However, this did not end the war. The following year, the Raritan burned Dutch farmsteads on Staten Island, and captured a number of settlers in retaliation for the Dutch attack against them the previous year. The Dutch asked the Massapequa of Long Island to send war parties against the Raritan. The Dutch once again offered a bounty for the head of any Raritan person.

The war between the Dutch and the Indians soon spread to other tribes. In 1641, a twenty-seven-year-old Wickquasgeck man appeared at the home of Claes Swits. He had a few furs and indicated that he was interested in trading them for some duffel cloth. Since Swits knew the man (whose name is not recorded in the history), he let him in. The Wickquasgeck man then reached for an ax which was near the door and cut off Swits’ head. He then left having revenged the death of his people who had been killed in 1626. In response to this attack, governor Willem Kieft ordered a full-scale retaliation. Kieft felt that once again the Indians had shown that they could never be trusted. Extermination, according to Kieft, was the only solution.

Word of the Dutch war of extermination did not reach all Indians and in 1643, a group of Wecquaesgeek and Tappan sought refuge at Fort Amsterdam as they fled from a war party of Mahican. They did not know that Governor Kieft had argued for the extermination of all Indians who had refused to pay Dutch tribute. In the middle of the night, the Dutch soldiers massacred the sleeping Indians. The soldiers’ cruelty, described by Dutch planter Willem DeVries, included

“infants were torn from their mother’s breasts, and hacked to pieces in the presence of the parents, and the pieces thrown into the fire and in the water, and other sucklings, being bound to small boards, were cut, stuck, and pierced, and miserably massacred in a manner to move a heart of stone.”

About 80 Indians were massacred and the soldiers were rewarded for their services. Willem Kieft thanked them and congratulated them on their victory.

In 1644, the Mahican sachem Aepjen negotiated a peace treaty with the Dutch on behalf of a number of tribes, including the Wappinger and Wiechquaesgeck. Many of the Wiechquaesgeck felt that they could not endure the treaty with the Dutch and subsequently they left their homes and went to live among the Raritan in New Jersey.

In 1645, the Dutch held a council with the Indians in front of their fort at Manhattan. The Dutch wished to negotiate a firm and inviolable peace with the assembled Indian leaders which included Hackinsack leader Oratany, Tappan leader Sesekemu, Rachgawawanck leader Willem, Nyack leader Mayauwetinnemin, and Wickquasgeck leader Aepjen (also known as Eskuyas). At this time, more than 1,000 Indians had been killed in the war against the Dutch.

Both sides agreed to peace and to settle future disputes by discussion rather than violence. Twenty Indian leaders make their marks on the treaty. Aepjen signed the treaty as representing the Wappinger, Wiechquaeskeck, Sinsink, and Kichtawank. The next day, the Dutch ordered a day of general thanksgiving. Thus the Governor Kieft War ended.


Ancient America: Hovenweep

In 1854 a Mormon expedition under the leadership of W. D. Huntington reported finding some ancient ruins in southeast Utah. Twenty years later, the photographer William Henry Jackson gave the name Hovenweep-a Paiute/Ute word meaning “Deserted Valley”-to the ruins.

Hovenweep Castle

In 1150 CE, large pueblos with stone towers were built in the box canyons in the Hovenweep area of present-day Utah by Ancestral Puebloan people (sometimes called Anasazi). The building was done in Mesa Verde style. Both the architectural style and the pottery styles of Hovenweep appear to be closely related to those of the Ancestral Puebloan people at Mesa Verde.

The characteristic architectural features of the pueblos, the stone towers, were built as astronomical observatories. The towers included square and circular towers as well as some D-shaped towers. At some of the D-shaped towers, all four of the major solar events-equinoxes and solstices-could be observed in rooms within the towers.

Square Tower

Hovenweep 2

One of the major feature of Ancestral Puebloan sites is the kiva: an underground ceremonial room. At the Hovenweep towns, the kivas are often associated with the towers.

As with the Ancestral Puebloan people in other areas, such as Mesa Verde and Chaco Canyon, the people at Hoveneep were highly skilled stone masons. Their well-constructed buildings were aesthetically pleasing as well as being functional and long-lasting. Some of the structures utilized large, irregularly shaped boulders as their foundation.

Hovenweep door

As with the Ancestral Puebloan great houses at Chaco Canyon and Mesa Verde, the builders of the great houses at Hovenweep used T-shaped doors. These doors usually led into public spaces and were not sealed off.

The pueblos were constructed at the heads of box canyons where moisture percolates through the sandstone on the mesa and emerges at the canyon heads in the form of seeps and springs. The Ancestral Puebloan people, utilizing their good knowledge of hydrology, built check dams and reservoirs to control the precious water supply. The check dams above the canyons helped recharge the ground water supply and ensure that the springs within the canyon would continue to provide water throughout the year. This Hovenweep water system allowed them to cultivate garden plots on the terraced slopes of the lower canyons. It also encouraged the growth of native edible or useful plants, such as beeweed, ground cherry, sedges, milkweed, cattail, and wolf berry.

Today, the Hovenweep ruins are a national monument which is administered by the National Park Service.

Cajon Group

A prolonged drought from 1276 to 1299 created major problems for the Ancestral Puebloan communities. The drought meant that they could not grow enough food to feed their people. From the Hovenweep area of Utah, the people began a migration south into the Rio Grande Valley in New Mexico and the Little Colorado River Basin in Arizona. Here they established new villages and merged with existing populations to become many of the contemporary Pueblos.

According to modern Pueblo traditions, the ancient communities were abandoned because the serpent god mysteriously left. The serpent god controls rain and fertility. The people left the towns and followed the snake’s trail until they found a river where they once again built their communities.  

A message from Galeano Suarez, Shaman of the Paí Tavy-terá, Paraguay

The Paí Tavy-terá is a dwindling ethnicity of the Guarani Indians. As little as 50 years ago they had been able to roam all Northeastern Paraguay, but as the goverment sold the land and it became fenced off, they have been increasingly confined.

After many legal battles to ensure they were living in their sacred land they have been living in the reservations since the 1970’s.

Galeano Suarez is their leader, and here is his message:…

Posted in Uncategorized

A message from Galeano Suarez, Shaman of the Paí Tavy-terá, Paraguay

The Paí Tavy-terá is a dwindling ethnicity of the Guarani Indians. As little as 50 years ago they had been able to roam all Northeastern Paraguay, but as the goverment sold the land and it became fenced off, they have been increasingly confined.

After many legal battles to ensure they were living in their sacred land they have been living in the reservations since the 1970’s.

Galeano Suarez is their leader, and here is his message:…

Posted in Uncategorized

The Battle of Four Lakes and Spokane Plains

As a result of the 1858 defeat of forces under the command of Major Edward Steptoe by a force of 1,000 Indian warriors from several different tribes- Palouse, Coeur d’Alene, Spokan, Yakama, Pend d’Oreille, Flathead, and Columbia-600 troops under Colonel George Wright were sent out to meet the Indian forces in Eastern Washington and inflict heavy casualties upon them. Wright’s orders from the Army stated:

“You will attack all the hostile Indians you may meet, with vigor, make their punishment severe, and persevere until the submission is complete.

While Wright’s orders mentioned that the treaty rights of the Hudson’s Bay Company were to be observed, there was no mention of any Indian treaty rights.

American forces swept through Eastern Washington, attacking villages, burning their provisions and supplies, shooting and hanging Indians with no concern for who they were and what they may have done. Following two major battles, one at Four Lakes and the other at Spokane Plains, the disorganized Indian forces were soundly defeated.  

The Battle of Four Lakes:

At Four Lakes, about 15 miles south of Spokane Falls, Wright’s forces encountered a large force of Indian warriors. The Indians, eager for a fight, were armed with muzzle-loading muskets, lances, and bows and arrows. Writing in 1859, Lieutenant Lawrence Kip, one of the participants in the battle, reports:

“Every spot seemed alive with the wild warriors we had come so far to meet.”

According to Kip:  

“Most of them were armed with Hudson Bay muskets, while others had bows and arrows and long lances.”

The army, on the other hand, was armed with new long-range rifles which proved to be deadly at 600 yards. Hudson Bay muskets, the primary Indian firearm, had a range of only 200 yards or less. The military’s new weapons and ammunition proved to be very effective.

Lieutenant Kip describes the military tactics of the Indians:

“The Indians acted as skirmishers, advancing rapidly and delivering their fire, and then retreating again with a quickness and irregularity which rendered it difficult to reach them. They were wheeling and dashing about, always on the run, apparently each fighting on his own account.”

Captain Keyes reported:

“The barbarous host was armed with Hudson Bay muskets, spears, bow and arrows, and apparently they were subject to no order or command.”

The Indians soon withdrew without inflicting any casualties on the Americans. The army estimated that 18-20 Indians were killed in the battle. The retreating Indians set fire to the prairie grasses, but the American troops pushed through the embers and smoke in pursuit.

The Battle of Spokane Plains:

At the battle of Spokane Plains, the army met and defeated an estimated 500-700 Spokan, Coeur d’Alene, Palouse, and Pend d’Oreille warriors. While no Americans were killed, two brothers of Spokan chief Spokan Garry were reported killed. A number of Nez Perce warriors aided the army as guides, spies, and pack train guards.

Lieutenant Kip described the battle:

“We had nearly reached the woods when they advanced in great force, and set fire to the dry grass of the prairie, so that the wind blowing high and against us, we were nearly enveloped by the flames. Under cover of the smoke, they formed round us in one-third of a circle, and poured in their fire upon us, apparently each one on his own account.”

Kip continues:

“Then on the hills to our right, if you could have had time to have witnessed them, were feats of horsemanship which we have never seen equaled. The Indians would dash down a hill five hundred feet high and with a slope of forty-five degrees, at the most headlong speed, apparently with all the rapidity they could have used on level ground.”

At the battle of Spokane Plains, Yakama leader Kamiakin was nearly killed when a howitzer shell hit a tree and the tree branch knocked him from his horse. Riding into battle with Kamiakin was his wife Colestah who was known as a medicine woman, psychic, and warrior. Armed with a stone war club, Colestah fought at her husband’s side. When Kamiakin was wounded, she rescued him, and then used her healing skills to cure him.  

Colonel Wright reported:

“The chastisement which these Indians received has been severe but well merited, and absolutely necessary to impress them with our power. For the last eighty miles our route has been marked by slaughter and devastation; 900 horses and a large number of cattle have been killed or appropriated to our own use; many horse, with large quantities of wheat and oats, also many caches of vegetables, kamas, and dried berries have been destroyed. A blow has been struck which they will never forget.”

Most of the horses and cattle destroyed do not actually belong to “hostile” Indians, but to Indians who are not at war with the United States.


The American victories at Four Lakes and Spokane Plains demoralized the Indians and the alliance among the various tribes disintegrated. Following the battles of Four Lakes and of Spokane Plains, Colonel George Wright dictated a treaty of peace with the Coeur d’Alene in Idaho. At the treaty council, Coeur d’Alene chief Vincent began by saying:

“I have committed a great crime. I am fully conscious of it, and am deeply sorry for it. I and all my people are rejoiced that you are willing to forgive us.”

In response, Colonel Wright told them:

“You must deliver to me, to take to the General, the men who struck the first blow in the affair with Colonel Steptoe. You must deliver to me to take to Walla Walla, one chief and four warriors with their families. You must deliver up to me all property taken in the affair with Colonel Steptoe.”

Wright then met with the Spokan in Washington and signed an almost identical treaty with them. When Colonel Wright met in council with the Spokan, one chief told him:

“I am sorry for what has been done, and glad of the opportunity now offered to make peace with our Great Father. We promise to obey and fulfil [sic] these terms in every point.”

In both treaty councils, he told the Indians that he had come into the Spokane country to fight and that he wasn’t interested in peace. If they were tired of war, then he would tell them the terms of peace. He stated his peace terms:

“You must come to me with your arms, with your women and children, and everything you have, and lay them at my feet; you must put your faith in me and trust to my mercy.”

Colonel Wright directed Spokan Garry to send messengers to chiefs Moses, Big Star, Skloom, and Kamiakin and inform them that they should come in for a conference. Later Colonel Wright reported:

“I warned them that if I ever had to come into this country again on a hostile expedition no man should be spared; I would annihilate the whole nation.”

When Palouse chief Polatkin and nine warriors came to talk peace with Wright, the Americans seized one of the warriors and hung him on suspicion of being involved with the murder of two miners in Colfax. There was no trial, no testimony: Wright simply sentenced him to be hung and declared:

“the fact of his guilt was established beyond doubt, and he was hung at sunset.”

The journals of other officers and civilians who witnessed the event make it clear that Wright made no effort to determine guilt or innocence. To Wright, all Indians were guilty by the very fact that they were Indian.

Reports of American brutality and their eagerness to hang Indians for imagined crimes soon spread throughout the Plateau and Plains. As a result, Indian warriors became less inclined to surrender peacefully as they knew the Americans had no interest in peace but only in the annihilation of the Indians.


The Dutch and the Indians

The Dutch, whose presence in North America was not of long duration (about 40 years), were interested primarily in trade and viewed Indians as something to be tolerated, like cold winters and hot summers. In general the Dutch appeared to have little interest in learning about the Indians and their culture. Like other Europeans, the Dutch never questioned the idea that Dutch culture was richer, stronger, more highly developed, and closer to God than the Indian cultures. From an Indian viewpoint, the Dutch were seen as not being hospitable for they gave few presents and charged for repairing guns.

Map New Netherlands

Regarding the Indians, the Dutch generally followed a policy of live and let live: they did not force assimilation or religious conversion on the Indians. Both in Europe and in North America, the Dutch had little interest in forcing conformity on religious, political, and racial minorities. They were not particularly interested in forcing Christianity upon the Indians.

The Dutch came to North America to make money and were not interested in imperial strategies. The Dutch were in the beaver business; therefore they were concerned with sustaining the Indian nations who were providing them with beaver pelts. They viewed the Indians as trading partners and therefore a source of wealth.

Between 1614 and 1624, it is generally estimated that the Dutch fur traders obtained about 10,000 beaver skins annually from the Connecticut Indians alone. To facilitate this trade, the Dutch traders began using wampum as a type of currency. They acquired wampum from the Pequots and Narragansetts in exchange for European trade goods. The Dutch then carried this wampum to Indians in the interior, exchanging it for furs.

In 1648, the Dutch estimated that 80,000 beaver pelts per year were passing through Manhattan on their way to European markets. In addition, they noted the growing importance of tobacco: Amsterdam was now the tobacco capital of Europe. The Dutch created a variety of tobacco blends to suite a range of prices and tastes. Tobacco grown in the English colony of Virginia was often shipped to Europe through the Dutch colony at Manhattan.

The Dutch fur traders, like those of the other European nations, were not renowned for their elegance and refinery. From a European perspective, their manners and honesty were often lacking. It was not uncommon for them to attempt to cheat the Indians. In spite of conflicts over this, dishonest trading practices did not lead to war as the trade was too profitable to both sides.

Among the items which the Indians, particularly the Iroquois, demanded in exchange for their furs were guns and the ammunition for them. The Dutch supplied their Indian trading partners with guns and with these guns, the Indians expanded their territory, often displacing tribes which did not have access to guns.

Another important trade item was alcohol. Officially, the Dutch enacted a number of laws designed to stop the liquor traffic with Indians, but these tended to be ignored. Since the Indians were willing to pay high prices for Dutch beer and brandy, there were many Dutch colonists who were willing to supply the demand without much regard for the consequences.

While the Dutch made some effort to be fair to the Indians when applying Dutch law to them, the Indians also learned that they could utilize the Dutch laws. One example of this was seen in 1647 when Harmen van der Bogaert, a Dutch barber-surgeon who was married with four children, was discovered  having sex with another man. He fled deep into Mohawk country, seeking refuge in a village where he had been befriended years earlier. The Dutch authorities, however, tracked him down. There was a shootout in a longhouse and, as a distraction, van der Bogaert attempted to burn the building down. He was captured and taken to Fort Orange. The Mohawk, knowing something of European law, sent a delegation to Manhattan to sue the West India Company for damages to their building and supplies. After hearing their case, Peter Stuyvesant concluded that the Indians are right. He ordered the sale of van der Bogaert’s property with the money from the sale going to pay for the company’s debt to the Mohawk.

With regard to religious conversion, only two ministers of the Dutch Reformed Church made any serious effort to convert Indians. They failed to make any converts.

Both the Dutch and the Swedes bought Indian land to legalize their occupancy in the eyes of other Europeans. They recognized the Indians’ ownership of the land and thus the legal necessity of buying land before appropriating it. In general, the Dutch tended to be fair when buying land and cases of fraud and high-pressure tactics were the exception rather than the rule. The Dutch bought the land around New Amsterdam before they needed it and the Indians continued to occupy it undisturbed for years after the purchase.

Part of the conflict with the Indians over land purchases stemmed from different views of the transactions. Indians viewed the land as community property which belonged to the entire tribe or band for their use in perpetuity. They did not view it as a commodity to be bought and sold. The Indians thus viewed land purchases as simply payments for temporary use, while the Dutch looked upon these as final sales. Conflict arose when the Indians demanded from the Dutch further payments or for them to vacate the land.

New Amsterdam

A drawing of New Amsterdam is shown above.  

Swedes and Indians

New Sweden is one of the least known European colonies in North America. This Swedish colony was established in what is now Delaware in 1638 by Peter Minuit. Minuit, a German native of French extraction and recent Dutch ties, arrived in his ship, the Kalmar Nychel, flying the blue-and-yellow flag of Sweden from the mainmast. Looking like a medieval knight in his suit of battle armor, he came ashore to proclaim a colony on behalf of Sweden. The new colony, brought to the continent in two ships, included several dozen Dutch sailors and Swedish soldiers.  

The New Sweden Company had been chartered to create an agricultural (primarily tobacco) and fur-trading colony which could bypass the French, English, and Dutch. The Company included Swedish, Dutch, and German stockholders.

Immediately upon landing, Minuit called a council with the chiefs of the Lenni Lenape (Delaware) and Susquehannock, gathering them in the cabin of his flag ship. He persuaded them to sign a deed assigning ownership of the land over to the Swedes. Minuit’s concerns were not really about tribal ownership of the area. Rather, Minuit was concerned about possible Dutch claims to the land and wanted to forestall any legal argument with them. The Swedes purchased lands on the west side of the river-an area which would later become the states of Delaware and Maryland, and a portion of Pennsylvania which would become Philadelphia.

The expedition constructed Fort Christina (named for the twelve-year-old Swedish Queen) and garrisoned it with 25 men. Minuit then returned to Sweden where he hoped to put together another expedition, one with colonists as well as soldiers.

New Sweden Map 1

Eventually, 600 Swedes and Finns together with a few Dutch and Germans who were in Swedish service settled in New Sweden. The Finns were mostly Forest Finns from central Sweden. The colonists established farms and small settlements along both sides of the Delaware River. Peter Minuit became the first governor of the new colony.

Following Minuit’s death, Johan Bjornsson Printz was appointed governor (1643 to 1653). The New Sweden Company expanded its territory along the river from Fort Christina, establishing  Fort Nya Elfsborg on the east bank of the Delaware River and Fort Nya Gothenborg on Tinicum Island.  The Swedish colony initially prospered.

Map New Netherlands

In 1643, the Susquehannock, under threat of conquest by the colonists in Maryland, obtained advice and firearms, including artillery, from New Sweden. Maryland sent two expeditions against the Susquehannock. The first expedition encountered the Susquehannock, but the Indians simply melted away as the firing began. The second Maryland expedition was routed by Susquehannock warriors using firearms obtained from New Sweden. The Susquehannock captured two cannons and 15 prisoners.

In 1655, the Dutch took control of the Swedish colonies and New Sweden vanished into history. The Finns, who had been brought in by the Swedes as laborers, were offered incentives to continue their efforts at clearing the forests. As a result of the change in colonial power, the Susquehannock were forced to make peace with the Mohawk.

The Dutch, the Indians, and Fort Orange

Henry Hudson sailed into New York harbor in 1609. He sailed past the island known to the local Indians as Manna-hata and then up the river which now bears his name to what is the present day city of Albany. Flying the flag of the Dutch East India Company, Hudson’s primary purpose was not to explore, but to make a profit by exchanging merchandise for furs.

As he began his trip upriver, he traded with a group of Indians (probably the Navasink who are related to the Lenni Lenape) in Sandy Hook Bay. The Indians approached the Dutch traders with an air of dignity, offering them corn bread and green tobacco. Then, suddenly, two canoes of Indians attacked the Dutch traders, killing one man and wounding two others. The attacking warriors were not Navasink, but from a tribe attempting to stop the Navasink from trading with the Dutch. As a result of this attack, the Dutch became suspicious of all Indians. They took two Navasink warriors as hostages even though the Navasink had attempted to establish good relations with the Dutch.  

A little farther up the river, Hudson traded with the Mohican, a tribe of about 6,400 people, for otter and beaver pelts. With this, he established the Dutch claim for the area which they called New Netherland. Hudson went ashore and later described the Mohican houses as being circular and made of bark. He wrote:

“The land is the finest for cultivation that I ever in my life set foot upon.”

On the trip back downriver, Indians again attacked and were driven off with the Dutch muskets.

In 1614, the Dutch established a trading post on Castle Island known as Fort Nassau. The trader, Jacob Elkens, learned both the Mahican and Mohawk languages.

Following Hudson’s return to the Netherlands and his descriptions of the wealth of the country that he saw, the Dutch West India Company was formed in 1621 to exploit the resources of the Americas and to establish a colony among the intelligent natives.

In 1624, the Dutch West Indian Company established a trading post and settlement, Fort Orange, on the western shore of the Hudson River. Located at a strategic crossroad linking the Iroquois and New England, Fort Orange would become a major trading post. At Fort Orange, the Dutch traders exchanged metal tools, cloth, glass beads, firearms, ammunition, and other European goods for furs.

With the founding of Fort Orange, the trading post of Fort Nassau on Castle Island was abandoned.

Map New Netherlands

Even by this time, the fur trade had negatively impacted the ecology of North America. One of the reasons for locating Fort Orange inland was that the beaver trade had already decimated the beaver in the coastal regions. The coastal fur trade was diminishing, and the Dutch traders had to move deeper into the back country in order to obtain furs.

The establishment of Fort Orange also had other consequences for the Indians. The new fort was located on lands claimed by the Mahican and the Mahican welcomed the Dutch trading post. To the north and west was Mohawk territory. Prompted by trading concerns, war soon broke out between the Mahican and the Mohawk.

When a group of about two dozen Mahican warriors under the leadership of Monemin approached the Dutch at Fort Orange and asked for their aid against the Mohawk, the Dutch agreed. It seemed to the Dutch that helping the Mahicans now would yield a firm ally in the future. About three miles from the fort, the war party, with six Dutchmen, was ambushed by the Mohawk. Four of the Dutchmen and 24 of the Mahicans, including Monemin, were killed. The Mohawk roasted and ate one of the Dutchmen.

The Mohawk drove the Mahican east and north of Fort Orange, thus gaining direct access to the Dutch traders. While the Mahican maintained their villages, gardens, and all other territorial rights east of the Hudson River, they lost their hunting territory to the west. This resulted in a migration of part of the Mahican population from their Hudson River villages to new hunting grounds. In 1629, the Mahican sold most of their land around Fort Orange to the Dutch West India Company. While some Mahican stayed in the area to work for the Dutch, many moved east to the Connecticut Valley or to western Maine.

In 1626, the Dutch West India Company sent explicit instructions on dealing with the Indians:

“He shall also see that no one do the Indians any harm or violence, deceive, mock, or condemn them in any way, but that in addition to good treatment they be shown honesty, faithfulness, and sincerity in all contracts, dealings, and intercourse, without being deceived by shortage of measure, weight or number, and that throughout friendly relations with them be maintained.”

In 1634, the Oneida, one of the nations of the Iroquois League, invited three Dutch traders from Fort Orange to their main settlement. The Dutch saw French goods and were told how favorable French trading terms were. The Dutch described the settlement as a castle with 66 houses enclosed within a double-palisaded wall which is 767 steps in circumference.  

In that same year, the Dutch trade with the Mohawk dried up due to the trading alliances between French and the nations of the Iroquois Confederacy. Dutch trader Harmen van den Bogaert traveled into the interior to seek out the Mohawk and to convince them that the Dutch would be better trading partners. The Dutch entered a number of Mohawk villages, finding the bark-covered houses up to 200 feet long with several hearths and set row-on-row in the manner of streets. The Dutch observed that some of the houses bore the signs of European contact: iron hinges, bolts, chains.

When the Dutch entered the most important Mohawk village, the Indian people formed two long lines outside the gate of the village. The Dutch passed ceremonially between the columns, and then through the elaborately carved entryway, to the house at the farthest end.

The Dutch met in council with the Mohawk who showed the Dutch the presents which the French had given them. However, the Mohawk indicated that they would prefer to maintain trade relations with the Dutch as they feared the Huron with whom the French were allied. The Mohawk offered the Dutch trading terms: each beaver belt was to be worth four hands of sewant and four hands of cloth. A hand of sewant (wampum) is a string of beads stretched from the outstretched thumb to the little finger. Van den Bogaert explained that he was not authorized to negotiate but would return in the spring with an answer.

The Dutch agreed to the Mohawk terms and the furs once again flowed into Fort Orange.

In 1635, a delegation of Onondaga, one of the five nations that made up the Iroquois Confederacy, met with Dutch traders at the main Oneida town. The Onondaga told the Dutch that their people were angered by the high prices and the business practices of the Dutch at Fort Orange. They told the Dutch that they were trading with the French because they could get better prices.

English traders from Boston began trading guns to the Mohawk in 1640 as a part of their efforts to lure them away from the Dutch. The Dutch responded by trading large amounts of guns and ammunition to the nations of the Iroquois Confederacy (of which the Mohawk were a member) and to the Mahican.

By 1645, the Mohawk were repairing their own guns and casting their own shot from lead bars purchased from the Dutch.

In 1649, the Dutch supplied the Iroquois with 400 guns and unlimited ammunition on credit and consequently the Iroquois attacked and destroyed the Huron. The Iroquois also destroyed the Tionontati and Nipissing. The survivors sought refuge among the Ojibwa and the Ottawa. Many historians feel that the Huron were exterminated as their sites were abandoned and their cultural structures destroyed. However, many of the Huron people survived and became a part of other tribes.

This marks the beginning of the westward expansion of the Iroquois and the displacement of many other tribes in the Great Lakes region. The Iroquois wanted increased hunting lands and the increase in furs for trade that would go with this expansion. They also wanted captives to replace their dead. This expansion displaced, both directly and indirectly, many tribes.

In 1664, the English colonists in New England attempted to incite a general war in the Hudson Valley. They tried to encourage the New England tribes to go to war against the Mohawk and to coordinate a general Indian uprising against the Dutch to coincide with an English invasion from Massachusetts.

The English took New York from the Dutch in 1664 and signed a treaty with the Mohawk. The Mohawk continued to trade with the Dutch traders at Albany who had remained to carry on their business under the English flag. The Indians generally felt that English goods were of better quality and sold at lower prices than French goods. This helped the Mohawk maintain their position in the fur trade and their close ties with Albany.

Fort Orange


The Indian Rights Association

During the late 19th century, non-Indians formed a number of groups to deal with the “Indian Problem.” In 1882 the Indian Rights Association was formed in Philadelphia. This group felt that Indians were capable of assuming full U.S. citizenship. They sought the extension of American law and legal rights to Indians and the abolishment of the protective and paternalistic practices of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. Clause II of their constitution states:

“The object of this Association shall be to secure to the Indians of the United States the political and civil rights guaranteed to them by treaty and statues of the United States and such as their civilization and circumstances may justify.”

The basic underlying beliefs of the Indian Rights Association were: (1) farming is superior to hunting; (2) alcohol is evil; (3) idleness is the ultimate evil; and (4) Christianity is the cure and therefore conversion to Christianity should be a key element in Indian policies.  

The group’s founder, Herbert Welsh, wrote in 1882:

“When this work shall be completed the Indian will cease to exist as a man, apart from other men, a stumbling block in the pathway of civilization; his empty pride of separate nationality will have been destroyed, and in its place the greater blessings which he or his friends could desire will be his, – an honorable absorption into the common life of the people of the United States.”

In 1884, the Indian Rights Association opened an office in Washington, D.C. to act as a lobbyist group with Congress and the Indian Office. It became a fairly influential lobbying group. Their investigative field trips gave them an edge in influencing federal legislation regarding Indian affairs. For the next forty years, the Indian Rights Association would be the organization which American Indians looked to for help and protection. Non-Indians used them as a reliable source of information about Indian conditions and concerns.

Some examples of Indian Rights Association Efforts:

In 1895, two Sioux Indian police-Straight Head and Scares-the-Hawk-were arrested for killing a non-Indian who had resisted arrest on the Cheyenne River Reservation in South Dakota two years earlier. The Indian Rights Association paid for an attorney to defend the two. The two were found guilty. The Indian Rights Association’s attorneys appealed and the Indians were eventually released from prison.

In 1901, the Indian Rights Association took up the cause of the Havasupai and protested the establishment of the Grand Canyon Forest Reserve on their traditional winter range. They wrote to the Secretary of the Interior:

“The authorities in charge of the Grand Cañon Forest Reserve seek to deprive the Indians of the privilege of crossing the Forest Reserve, and have notified the official in charge of the Havasupai Indians that they should not be allowed to trespass upon or roam over said reserve.”

In 1902, the Indian Rights Association warned:

“The present tendency of Congress to disregard the solemn rights guaranteed to the Indian by treaty is alarming.”

At the Pawnee Indian School, the superintendent disciplined Virginia Weeks, an 18-year old Pawnee who is described as frail, by first beating her with a yard stick and then with a strap. The beating continued until she agreed to repeat his words of apology to some laundry workers. This incident was exposed by the Indian Rights Association in 1903 and the superintendent resigned from Indian Service.

In 1903, the Indian Rights Association charged that federal court officials in Oklahoma had conspired with land companies in the sale of Indian lands. The charges included the fact that the attorney who represented the tribes was also a stockholder and attorney for companies which were being sued by the Indians. The Department of the Interior claimed that the charges were the creation of yellow journalists and troublemakers. A number of clerks were assigned to investigate those involved with the Indian Rights Association in an effort to damage their reputations.

Nearly every high-ranking Interior Department official in Oklahoma had stock in the land companies. Furthermore, most of them were officers and directors in the companies. A subsequent government investigation revealed some improprieties and those involved received mild punishments. Court officials with connections to the land companies quickly severed their ties with these companies.

On the Navajo reservation in 1907, the Indian agent ordered Navajo children to be sent to a boarding school in Shiprock, New Mexico. Byalille (also spelled Bai-a-lil-le), an influential medicine man, openly defied the order. He felt that putting children in school was a way of killing them. Cavalry troops surrounded Byalille’s camp, killed two Navajo, and took several men prisoner. The Indian agent recommended that Byalille and one other man be sentenced to ten years hard labor and that seven others be sentenced to two years. The Commissioner of Indian Affairs concurred and the nine prisoners were sent to Fort Huachuca, Arizona without having a trial. The handling of the case was protested by the Indian Rights Association and the men were finally released in 1909. Under the precedents established by earlier court cases, Byalille should not have been arrested at all.

The End:

With the election of Franklin Roosevelt as President and the appointment of John Collier as Commissioner of Indian Affairs, the federal American Indian policy changed radically. With this, the role and impact of the Indian Rights Association lessened. While the organization closed its Washington, D.C. office in 1934, it remained active until 1994. It was involved with the Seneca and their concerns over the Kinzua dam in the 1950s and 1960s and with helping the Pequots regain some of their land in the 1970s.


On Mother’s Day, Remembering My Puse 56 Years Later

Fifty-six years ago this summer, August 23, 1955, a stroke killed my grandmother, Simmalikee. She had been my mother until then, raising me until my own mother, who was just 15 when I was born, could get her chaotic life together. Suddenly, aged 51, my grandmother was gone. I miss her still. Especially on Mother’s Day.

My grandmother connected me to the Seminole world-the tribal world, the spirit world of our panther clan, the Muskogee language of our Creek ancestors-in ways that my mixed-blood grandfather did not. After his teen years, he had chosen a different road, coal miner, union organizer, political radical. Not that he ever forgot his origins. The world wouldn’t let him.

At Big Cypress in 1965, Billy Bowlegs III,

the half-African American, half-Seminole

tribal historian, at age 103.

But like so many Indians of his and later generations, operating in the new world cut him off from the old world, the half-assimilated culture of his parents and grandparents. He left the land that would later become the Seminole reservation on the northwest shore of Lake Okeechobee when he was not yet 20, and, except for brief visits, he did not return there until the final two years of his life five decades later.

My grandmother, on the other hand, would have lived forever where she was born if she could have. When she wed my grandfather at age 16, however, she signed on for a peripatetic life that took them and their children to the coal and metal mines of Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Illinois, West Virginia, Alabama and finally Georgia, where I was born. But, every August, no matter what, she traveled to Brighton for the Green Corn Ceremony and the stomp dance. Five times she took me with her on the long, long bus ride in those pre-Interstate highway days through a blur of towns and cities: Blakely, Bainbridge, Tallahassee, Gainesville, Ocala, Lakeland and Winter Haven, until we got to the Big Water.

There, for five or six weeks, I played with my first and second cousins, dark-skinned and light, full bloods and mixed. We caught frogs and snakes in the sawgrass, paddled flatboats and canoes in the marsh, and listened rapt to my great aunts and great uncles tell stories in Creek and English that they had heard from their own great uncles and aunts who had lived through the last two Seminole wars with the United States. They spoke of the government’s betrayal of Osceola, of Aripeka and his half-Irish wife Itee, and of Olacto Mico, known to the outside world as Billy Bowlegs.

At age 7, I was introduced along with some of my visiting cousins to Chofeehatcho, Billy Bowlegs III, a grandson of Osceola who was then 91 years old and would live another 12. His father was African American, his mother half-Seminole and half-Scottish, and he had been the tribal historian for 50 years. I remember he had piercing eyes and a deep voice. We all sat on his porch while he told us kids a story about a character I knew well from my grandmother’s own stories, Chufi, the rabbit who is trickster, just as coyote is in Southwest Indian lore.

Like my grandmother, when the ceremonies were over and all the summer visitors prepared to leave, I never wanted to get back on the bus. But my grandfather wanted her home and me back in school. Obligations that could not be denied.

My grandmother was herself not keen on school. From age 9 until 15, she had been  taken away to boarding school, a Cherokee boarding school since there was none exclusively for Seminoles. There, they worked her over but good, doing all they could to snatch away her culture, her language, her roots. They did not succeed. But as young as I was, I knew she was bitter about the attempt.

At home, in an extended family sometimes swelling to more than a dozen in a big but dilapidated house my grandfather had managed to buy for back taxes, she was my guide, my explainer, my soother and my shield against the none-too-friendly world of Jim Crow. She counseled me to patience but not surrender.

Although some of the memories have faded in the decades since she was there every day for me, one that I have told here previously remains sharp-edged, as if it had happened yesterday:

I was 6 years old and sitting next to my grandmother at the table where as many as 14 of our extended family members ate our evening meals. I quickly finished my small plate of rice and beans, and said, “But, grandma, I’m still hungry.” Everyone went silent. My grandma, Simmalikee, smiled at me, took her plate and scraped off the several spoonfuls she had not yet eaten onto mine. No, I thought. Not your food, grandma. Some other food. I sobbed as she coaxed me to eat each bite. No matter how empty my belly felt, I never again said I was still hungry after a meal.

That was a long time ago, and my grandma has been dead more than 50 years, but I have never forgotten that terrible moment nor what it means to be poor. If there was meat or fish on the table then, it was possum, deer, catfish and the occasional wild hog. In those days, before food stamps, we received surplus government hand-outs every month: rice, beans, cornmeal, lard, cheese and powdered milk. It was never enough, and toward the end of each month, everybody’s portions got smaller.

I escaped that poverty long ago. And, as I said, I’ve forgotten many of the details my grandmother taught me, including much of the language we spoke with each other. But she will forever be in my heart, and Mother’s Day will never pass without the memory of her smile and embrace bringing me to tears. M’vto, puse, (thank you, grandmother) for all you did.

The Black Hawk War

In 1832, a war broke out in Illinois between the American settlers and the Sauk under the leadership of Black Hawk. The war lasted 15 weeks and resulted in the deaths of 70 non-Indians. While historians often call this Black Hawk’s War, it was not an invading force of Sauk warriors, but rather a migration of men, women, and children.

In many respects, Black Hawk was an unlikely leader. He was not a physically attractive, charismatic leader who could inspire his people with his words. He was in his sixties at the time of the war. He was a traditionalist who honored the old customs and ways, never wearing white people’s clothing or tasting alcohol in any form.

Black Hawk


In 1828, the Indian agent told the Sauk that their village of Saukenuk had been sold and that it was time for them to move west of the Mississippi River. Mess-con-de-bay (Red Head) was adamant that the Sauk did not want to leave the bones of their ancestors. Mess-con-de-bay, a chief and a man of considerable standing, was simply dismissed by the agent as a “vile unprincipled fellow” and as a “poor trifling, mean, insignificant old man”.  

In Illinois, both the Secretary of War and the state governor called for the removal of all Indians from the state. American squatters then took over a Sauk village while the Sauk were on their winter hunt. The American squatters were told that the Sauk were not going to return to the village.

Later that winter, Sauk warrior Black Hawk, concerned about rumors that the Americans had occupied their village, traveled alone through the cold, snow-filled countryside, to see for himself. He found an American family occupying his own lodge. Through an interpreter he told them to leave and not to trouble Sauk lands. The family ignored the demand.

By spring, squatters who had moved into the Sauk village turned their cattle loose into the Sauk cornfields. Black Hawk talked with the American Indian agent and was told that the Sauk should give up all notions of ever returning to Saukenuk again. The agent recommended that the Sauk establish a new village west of the Mississippi.

Disturbed by the agent’s advice, Black Hawk went to talk with Wabokieshiek, the Winnebago prophet. Wabokieshiek, who was in his mid-forties, presided over a village that was generally described as a mixture of many nations. He told Black Hawk that the Sauk should return to their village and that there should be no trouble between the Indians and the American settlers.

Sauk leader Keokuk then attempted to persuade the Sauk at Saukenuk to join the new Sauk community on the Iowa River. Black Hawk looked upon Keokuk as a traitor to his own people and refused the invitation. Black Hawk and his people attempted to live in their traditional village in a peaceful manner.

In 1830, the Indian agent for the Sauk expressed the hope that the government would provide justice for the Sauk and prevent squatters from taking over their land. The government, however, put the Sauk homelands in Illinois up for sale. When the Sauk returned from their winter hunt, they found settlers with legal titles plowing up the graves of Sauk ancestors.

In 1831, Black Hawk’s Sauk returned to their village of Saukenuk following their winter hunt. The Sauk numbered 1,200 to 1,600 people with an estimated 300 to 400 warriors. In previous years, the Sauk had returned to their village after the winter hunt in a peaceful manner. In spite of this peaceful past, the Americans responded by calling up a force of 700 militia volunteers to protect the citizens of the state from the Sauk invasion.

Once again, Black Hawk consulted with Wabokieshiek, the Winnebago prophet. The prophet told him to stay calm and peaceful. If they offered no resistance to the soldiers, the prophet told him, the soldiers would not force them to abandon their land.

The Sauk met in council with the Americans. Before General Gaines could make his opening remarks, Kinnekonnesaut jumped to his feet and spoke. Gaines became visibly irritated. He then simply read his prepared address. It seemed to the Sauk that he was unwilling, or perhaps unable, to talk with them from the heart.

Keokuk complained to the Americans that the Sioux make life difficult and dangerous for them west of the Mississippi. He also pointed out that it was too late in the season to plant crops. He suggested that the Americans allow Black Hawk’s people to remain in the village so that they could harvest the corn which they had planted.

When Black Hawk addressed the council, General Gaines demanded:

“Who is the Black Hawk that he should assume the right of dictating to his tribe? …I know him not-he is not a chief-who is he?”

Black Hawk told the general that the women owned the fields, not the men. Then a woman selected by the other women addressed the Americans. She explained that the women owned the land and that they had never sold any of it, nor had they consented to transfer any of it to the United States. Gaines dismissed her comments and said that the President did not send him to make treaties with women nor to hold council with them.

The general ordered the Sauk to move within three days. He did, however, agree to provide them with corn to replace the corn which they would be unable to harvest. Twenty-eight chiefs and warriors signed the Articles of Agreement dictated by General Haines. The Sauk were to cross the Mississippi and never return to Saukenuk.

In order to avoid any confrontation with the state militia, Black Hawk left the state, leading some of his people to Iowa. Here they found little food and starvation began.

As soon as Black Hawk left, the American militia moved into their old village of Saukenuk and burned many of the lodges. The volunteer soldiers also vandalized the Sauk cemetery.

The War:

Black Hawk led about 400 Sauk warriors and their families back into Illinois in 1832. Their goal was to reclaim their traditional village of Saukenuk. The result of this move was a series of conflicts known as the Black Hawk War. The initial response by the Governor of Illinois was to mobilize the state militia, and President Jackson was determined to crush Black Hawk. Indian agent William Clark (of Lewis and Clark fame) writes of the Sauk:

“a War of Extermination should be waged against them. The honor and respectability of the Government requires this: — the peace and quiet of the frontier, the lives and safety of its inhabitants demand it.”

A force of 275 American volunteers overtook Black Hawk who had only 40 warriors with him. Facing odds that seemed to spell disaster, Black Hawk sadly sent out a delegation to discuss surrender. Even though the Sauk delegation was carrying a flag of truce, the Americans opened fire. Black Hawk decided that if he was going to die, he would die fighting. Rallying his warriors, they made a suicidal attack against the larger force. They ran shouting into certain death, and then, to their surprise, the American volunteers broke and ran. In memory of the American commander, the battle became known as Stillman’s Run.

Following their victory at Stillman’s Run, Black Hawk led his warriors through the countryside, burning farmsteads and taking scalps.  In Illinois, they attacked the American fort on the Apple River. Following this they battled a militia force at Kellogg’s Grove, killing five Americans.

At the oxbow lake of the Pecantonic in present-day Wisconsin, Black Hawk’s warriors battled American militia troops. The eleven Indians in the war party were defeated in a matter of minutes. Militarily this was a minor skirmish, but psychologically and symbolically it showed the Americans that the Indians could be beaten.

At Wisconsin Heights the Americans again engaged the Indians in battle. The Americans estimated that they killed 40-68 Indians, though Black Hawk later claimed that he lost only six warriors. Unknown to the Americans, some Kickapoo had joined the fight and nearly all of their warriors were killed at Wisconsin Heights.

At the Battle of Bad Axe the Sauk were finally defeated. At this battle, more than 1,300 Americans attacked the Sauk. When the Indians tried to surrender, the troops set upon them clubbing, stabbing, and shooting. It is not known how many Indians died in the massacre.

About 200 Sauk escaped from the massacre at Bad Axe by making their way across the Mississippi River where they were attacked by a Sioux war party.

Black Hawk, Wabokieshiek, Chakeepashipaho, Little Stabbing Chief, and about 25 others slipped away from the band before the beginning of the massacre.  They made their way through Winnebago country and established a clandestine camp on Day-nik (Little Lake) near present-day Tomah, Wisconsin. They were discovered by the Winnebago traveler Hishoog-ka who then notified his village chief, Karayjasaip-ka, of the band’s presence. The Winnebago sent a delegation which included Chasjaka, who was Wabokieshiek’ brother, to persuade Black Hawk to end his struggle and turn himself in to the Americans. The Sauk returned to the Winnebago village where they were greeted cordially.

Black Hawk gave his medicine bag to Karayjasaip-ka. His medicine bag had been passed down from Muk-a-ta-quet, his great-great-grandfather, to Na-na-ma-kee, his great-grandfather. For Black Hawk, this medicine bag symbolized the very essence of the soul of the Sauk people.

Together with Wabokieshiek, Black Hawk set off for Prairie du Chien to turn himself in. At the Indian agent’s house, an hour before noon, on Monday August 1832, Black Hawk and Wabokieshiek appeared at the door as if they had materialized out of nowhere. Thus ended the Black Hawk War.


Following his surrender at Prairie du Chien, Black Hawk, the Winnebago prophet Wabokieshiek, Sauk chief Neapope, and several others were sent to Washington, D.C. This journey would greatly enhance Black Hawk’s fame and reputation.

They had a brief meeting with President Andrew Jackson. While Black Hawk attempted to explain to the President why he had gone to war-saying that he had been driven to war by the injustices against his people-Jackson was disinterested.

The party was then sent to Fort Monroe in Virginia where they were to be imprisoned. While at Fort Monroe, there was a procession of well-known artists who painted their portraits.

After only four weeks at Fort Monroe it was decided to release the prisoners, but only after they had been taken on a tour of the United States to impress them with the immense size and power of the country. Throughout the tour of the eastern cities, the group was met by large crowds and were treated as celebrities.

In 1833, Black Hawk told his life story to government interpreter Antoine LeClaire who published it as Life of Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak, or Black Hawk. The book became a best seller and went through five editions during the first year.

Black Hawk Statue

The Termination of the Menominee

Following World War II, the United States wanted to get out of the Indian business: that is, to sever all relationships with Indian tribes. In the spirit of assimilation and with the intent of reducing government’s role in Indian affairs, Congress passed the Indian Claims Commission Act in 1946 as a vehicle to extinguish all pending Indian claims and thus end the federal government’s obligation to provide support for the tribes. In other words, it would act as a kind of severance package which would help Indians to abandon their collective traditions and enter into American society as individuals.

In 1951, the Menominee were awarded $8.5 million to settle historic grievances regarding the mismanagement of their timber resources. Being awarded the money, however, does not mean receiving the money. Before the Menominee can receive this money, it must first be appropriated by Congress.  

Two years later, without consulting any Indians, House Concurrent Resolution 108 called for the termination of Indian tribes. The Resolution called for the unilateral withdrawal from treaty obligations to Indian nations as soon as possible. Utah Senator Watkins was one of the leaders of Indian termination in Congress. He felt that the 1924 citizenship act had ended all special federal relationships with Indian tribes.

The Resolution also called for the rapid termination of five large tribes-Flathead, Klamath, Menominee, Pottowatomie, and Turtle Mountain Chippewa. The United States, and the west in particular, was in the midst of an economic boom and non-Indian economic interests wanted to open up Indian reservations for corporate economic development. Two of the reservations singled out for termination-the Klamath and the Menominee-just happened to have timber resources which corporate interests desired.

In the spirit of termination, Utah Senator Arthur V. Watkins placed an amendment on a bill regarding the distribution of money awarded to the Menominee that called for the tribe to be terminated before the money could be distributed. While the Senator did not feel that the consent of the Menominee was required for their termination, he did agree to speak to the Menominee General Council.

In addressing the Menominee General Council, Senator Watkins informed them that Congress had already decided to terminate them and that they would not receive their money until after termination. The General Council then voted 169 to 5 in favor of the principle of termination. Many of the Menonimee chose to be absent from the meeting as a way of expressing their opposition to termination.

In 1954, the Menominee were officially terminated by the federal government. Prior to termination, the Menominee had timber which had been valued at $36 million in 1936.  Each tribal members was to be paid $1,500 of tribal money and the tribe was required to pay for the administrative costs of termination. In voting for termination, many tribal members thought that they were voting on the distribution of the money which they had been awarded. The impact of termination was a fast slide into poverty.

Menominee Enterprises, Inc. (MEI) was created to oversee Menominee resources and tribal assets. All tribal members became MEI shareholders, but they had little control over the organization. The board of directors was composed of both Menominee and non-Menominee with a majority of the board being non-Menominee. The Indians were told that this is to show the state that MEI has stable management.

By 1961, MEI was administering all tribal assets, including land, forest, and the sawmill. Each of the 3,270 tribal members received a receipt for 100 shares of common stock in MEI. The actual shares, however, were issued to the corporation’s Voting Trust, which was empowered to elect the MEI Board of Directors.

The First Wisconsin Trust Co. of Milwaukee was assigned guardian powers to act as a trustee for all tribal minors and incompetents. Tribal members could be determined to be incompetent by the Secretary of the Interior without any judicial hearings and legal process.

By 1963 it was evident to many, if not most, of the Menominee that termination had not benefitted them, and 800 Menominee adults-a majority of the tribe’s adults-signed a petition asking the federal government to end the termination of the tribe. The federal government ignored the petition.

In 1969, the Menominee Indian Study Report found that the state had gained ownership of more than a million dollars of Menominee income bonds as needy families were required to assign their bonds to the state in order to receive welfare.

DRUMS – Determination of Rights and Unity for Menominee Shareholders-was organized by Ada Deer in 1969 to seek the full repeal of termination and the restoration of federal recognition and the reservation.  The first two chapters of DRUMS were organized in Chicago and Milwaukee, the two largest centers of Menominee population outside of Menominee County.

With regard to DRUMS in Menominee County, Chicago chapter president Jim White reported:

“We figured that MEI would threaten and harass people in Menominee County with loss of jobs if they started a local Chapter, so we knew it would be difficult to organize up there.”

At the first DRUMS meeting in the county, MEI hired 25 millhands to break up the gathering. In spite of death threats, the DRUMS chapter was organized and Laurel Otradovecs is elected president.

In 1971, DRUMS conducted a march to Madison to petition the Governor to end the welfare program that was taking tribal assets from the Menominee. In Madison, the Governor was presented with a list of eight requests. As a result of the march, the Governor toured Menominee County. In his meeting with the Menominee, the Governor realized that the Menominee want restoration of their tribal status.

Congress repealed the Menominee termination in 1973 and restored the tribe to federal status. The return to federal status did not erase the loss of tribal resources and the poverty that termination created. In 1970, President Richard Nixon spoke to Congress about termination:

“Because termination is morally and legally unacceptable, because it produces bad practical results, and because the mere threat of termination tends to discourage greater self-sufficiency among Indian groups, I am asking the Congress to pass a new Concurrent Resolution which would expressly  renounce, repudiate and repeal the termination policy as expressed in House Concurrent Resolution 108 of the 83rd Congress.”

In the years that follow, many of the tribes which were terminated during this era have their federal recognition restored.  

Southeastern Agriculture

When the Spanish first arrived in what is now the Southeastern United States, they found Indian nations that had been agriculturalists for more than a thousand years. In 1539, the Spanish explorer Hernando de Soto landed in Tampa Bay (Florida) with a large force and began marching north. The Spanish report that they passed by many great fields of corn, beans, squash, and other plants. In one instance they reported that the fields ran for two leagues (approximately 4-5 miles) and that they spread out for as far as the eye could see on either side of the roadway. It is estimated that this represented more than 10,000 acres under cultivation.

Crops (primarily corn, beans, squash, and tobacco) were planted along the creeks and bottomlands near the villages. The area would be first cleared by cutting and burning. The ashes of the burnt wood and cane would then nourish the crops. In addition to the primary crops, the Indians of the Southeast also raised sunflowers, pumpkins, sumpweed, chenopodium, pigweed, knotweed, giant ragweed, canary grass, amaranth, and melons.  

In order to obtain a maximum yield from their fields, the Southeastern Indians practiced both intercropping and multiple cropping. Intercropping involved planting several different kinds of plants together in the same field. By planting corn and beans together, for example, the bean vines could twine themselves around the corn stocks.  

One interesting aspect to intercropping was the practice of leaving and/or planting trees in cultivated fields that yielded nuts and fruits. This practice helped maintain long-term soil fertility. These trees included cherries, white and red mulberries, persimmons, walnuts, chestnuts, plums, and dwarf chinquapins. In addition to helping provide nutrients, the trees also attracted birds. The birds, in turned, helped to restrain the insect population in the fields.

Multiple cropping involves the planting of two successive crops in the same field. Thus, early corn was planted first. It ripened early and was picked green. Then the field would be cleared and a second crop was planted. However, double-cropping drains soil fertility unless there was some method of restoring nutrients to the soil. It is evident from both historical accounts and from the archaeological record that the Southeastern nations retained their fields for long periods of time and therefore must have replenished soil fertility.

The farming practices of the Southeastern Indians did not rapidly exhaust the soil. They planted beans with corn, thus offsetting the latter’s great consumption of nitrogen. They also carefully hoed the fields to avoid eroding the land. Among the Yamasee, who planted their fields near lagoons and marshes, the cultivated areas were regularly rotated to avoid soil exhaustion.

There is another important reason for raising both corn and beans. While corn supplies some essential protein, it lacks the amino acid lysine. On the other hand, lysine is abundant in beans. Thus, when beans and corn are eaten together they are a good source of vegetable protein.

As a fresh vegetable, squash was often used in stews. It was also sun dried, which concentrates the sugar so that dried squash could be cooked as a sweet dish.

A number of tribes in Florida, including the Timucua and the Calusa, cultivated a tuber known as Zamia. The Zamia plant appears to have been introduced into Florida by the ancestors of the historic Calusa from a source area in the Caribbean islands.

Not all cultivated plants were food plants. The Southeastern Indians also grew bottle gourd (Lagenaria siceraria). When cured, the bottle gourd has a hard shell that is very light and difficult to break. Bottle gourds were used for making water vessels, dippers, ladles, bowls, cups, rattles, masks, and bird houses. Tobacco was also grown.

Unlike the Europeans, the Indians of the Southeastern Woodlands did not view land as private property. Land was held in common with individuals and families having use rights. These farming rights were held as long as they continued to use the land. Use rights were generally respected and an individual or family would not seek access to a piece of land until it had been abandoned.

Among the Creeks, the amount of land under cultivation at each town would be increased whenever a child was born. To determine the amount of land needed by the town, a census would be taken each year.

The fields were worked communally. The entire field was not tilled, but rather worked into small hills about a foot in diameter which were spaced about three feet apart and which were laid out in straight lines. This method of preparation prevented soil erosion and preserved the fertility of the soil longer than did the plow-agriculture introduced by the later European colonists.

Among the Seminole, everyone in the village helped keep the crops healthy until they could be harvested. During the day, the children and the older people would drive away the nuisance birds. At night, the men would patrol the fields to keep the nocturnal animals away. Deer, bear, and raccoon were fond of Seminole crops.

The Cherokee built large scaffolds in their fields so that they could watch for crows and raccoons. During the summer, elderly women would sit on the scaffolds watching the fields. They would attempt to scare away animals which might eat the crops.  

Fields were cultivated with handled implements that the first Europeans described as hoes. These implements had blades of stone, oyster, mussel shell, fishbone, or wood. In addition, they used a digging stick for making holes into which the seeds were planted.

An important part of agriculture is the ability to store the harvested crops in such a way that they are kept safe from mice and other animals. To do this, the Southeastern Indians built corn cribs which were raised 7-8 feet on posts. The posts were polished so that the mice could not climb them. The crib itself was plastered and the door was sealed. When corn was taken from the crib, the seal would be broken, the door opened, some of the corn removed, and then the closed door was resealed to protect the corn which remained in the crib.

The early European settlers were amazed at the number of different ways that the Indians prepared corn. It is estimated that there were at least 42 different ways of preparing corn, each with its own name. Corn was processed into hominy which has been described as the staff of life for the Southeastern Indians. This process involved the use of wood-ash lye which selectively enhanced the nutritional value of the corn by increasing amino acid lysine and niacin. This protects people who eat a corn-based diet against pellagra.

To produce the wood-ash, the Choctaw women would pour cold water over clean wood ashes placed in a hopper. This would produce a yellow lye which would drip down into a small container. This lye would then be added to the cornmeal.

Among the Choctaw, corn was made into paluska holbi, which was a kind of bread. Boiling water would be poured into cornmeal, which was then pounded into a stiff dough, and shaped into small rolls. These rolls were then wrapped in corn husks and cooked under hot ashes. For a richer taste, they would add chestnut or hickory oil to the cornmeal.

Another Choctaw cornbread was bunaha. This was prepared by mixing dried beans, wild potatoes, and/or hickory with the cornmeal. The rolls of this mixture, wrapped in cornhusks, were then boiled in water.

As with tribes in other parts of North America, the tribes of the Southeast raised and gathered tobacco which was used for smoking. Among the Choctaw, tobacco was mixed with the leaves of other plants when used for smoking.

Many of the tribes also cultivated plums, particularly the Chickasaw plum (Prunus chicàsa). Later Europeans described this as a wild plant and failed to notice that it was found only near abandoned Indian fields.  

Ancient America: The Moche

While the Inka (Inca) are probably the best-known of the ancient civilizations of South America because they were flourishing when the Spanish arrived, there were many ancient civilizations which preceded them and provided the cultural foundations for the Inka. One of these was Moche who began to flourish about 2000 years ago.  

The Moche flourished from about 1 to 700 CE on the north Peruvian desert margin between the Andes and the Pacific. Their realm extended for at least 250 miles between the Lambayeque and Nepeña Valleys. In each of the river valleys they established ceremonial centers with large platform mounds. Each of the major Moche settlements seems to have been ruled by hereditary rulers who held religious and political power. Unlike the later Inka, the Moche were not an empire, but more closely resembled city-states unified by common cultural features.


In the river valleys, they were able to transform the land into verdant oasis. The agricultural crops which they raised included beans, cotton, corn, squash, chilies, and peanuts. The fields were often fertilized with guano which they collected from islands off the coast. In order to provide water to their agricultural fields, they developed extensive irrigation networks. One canal ran for 900km.

In addition to agriculture, they also fished and hunted. They fished in the ocean using reed boats and cotton nets. They hunted deer in the valleys and hills. Their domesticated animals included the Muscovy duck and the llama. The llama served as a pack animal and as a source for wool.

Part of the Moche wealth came from their ability to exploit gold and other metal resources. The Moche were expert metal workers. They made jewelry and other ornaments of gold, silver, copper, and alloys. These were often inlaid with lapis lazuli and turquoise. In addition to using metal for ornaments, they also made metal tools, including chisels, spear points, and fishhooks.

They were also experts in ceramics and weaving. In their ceramics, they used molds to cast wonderful shapes which they then painted. Their pottery provides an interesting and realistic insight into their lives. The portrait pots are amazingly realistic portrayals of real people showing a variety of emotions. Much to the chagrin of many American museum curators, their pots sometimes show sexual acts which cannot be shown in many museums.

Moche 1

Moche 2

Moche 3

Moche 4

Moche 5

The Moche maintained a fairly elaborate trading network. Feathers from the Amazon basin in the Moche sites show that their trading connections led across the Andes and into the rainforests on the other side.

Warfare may have been an important part of Moche culture as warriors are often shown in the pottery and in the murals which lined the temples and pyramids.

Moche religion seems to have centered on ideas of dualistic opposition: gold/silver, day/night, land/sea. One of the figures that appears in their religious pantheon is the Decapitator. This god (?) is often shown as part cat (the teeth) and part octopus (the wavy tentacles) with bulging eyes and huge ear spools. His outstretched arms wield a scepter or knife in one hand and an open-mouthed severed head in the others.

Decapitator 1

Decapitator 2

Shown above are some of the images of the Decapitator.

Other Moche deities included a goddess who wore a jester-like headdress, and a bird god. One of the principle rituals involved the drinking of blood taken from sacrificial victims. According to images from the pottery and murals, the priests would offer the blood in chalices to the gods before drinking it. By adding the juice of the ulluchu fruit to the blood it would not coagulate.

Moche monumental architecture is characterized by large adobe (mud brick) pyramids with platforms. They often decorated the pyramids and temples with friezes depicting Moche deities. Tombs of the rulers were placed inside the pyramids with elaborate ceremonies which are depicted on the Moche pottery.

Residential areas were located adjacent to the major pyramids and in the smaller towns up and down the river valleys.

One example of Moche monumental architecture is found at the El Brujo Complex, located about 4 km south of the present-day town of Trujillo, Peru. This site contains three large huacas (mounds or pyramids). One of these is the pyramid of Cao Viejo which is about 30 meters (100 feet) in height. This massive monument was built and rebuilt in four major phases between 200 and 650 CE. In each phase, the builders intentionally and carefully buried the previous temple, thus creating an even larger and higher pyramid. Each phase tended to repeat the same art and murals of the previous era.

On the lower level of the pyramid is a mural showing 10 naked men tethered together by a rope around their necks. Some archaeologists have interpreted this as an illustration of war captives, an indication that the Moche were not totally a peaceful people.

One of the major burials excavated at Cao Viejo has been named the Lady of Cao. She was a woman who died in her twenties around 400 CE. She was buried with a host of ceremonial items, including typical Moche gold jewelry and headdresses. In her grave were sewing needles, weaving spools, and raw cotton. She was also buried with weapons of war: two ceremonial clubs and 23 spears. Was she a warrior?

The well-preserved mummy of the Lady of Cao reveals that she had complex tattoos of spiders, seahorses, and snakes which covered her arms. The tattoo designs are distinct from the usual Moche designs. Skeletal analysis shows that she gave birth at least once. Beside her a teenaged girl had been sacrificed by strangulation.

The Temple (Pyramid) of the Sun (Huaca del Sol) at the El Brujo Complex is a stepped pyramid about 40 meters (130 feet) in height and about 350 meters (1,150 feet) in length. It is the tallest adobe structure in the Americas. It has four major platforms and was erected about 600 CE using an estimated 50 million adobe bricks.

The Spanish later mined the Temple of the Sun for its gold and silver objects which they melted down into bars. During this process they destroyed about two-thirds of the pyramid.

The third huaca at the El Brujo Complex is the Temple of the Moon (Huaca de la Luna). This large mound has three platforms and was built in five construction phases between 300 and 600. Its base is 300 meters by 250 meters. There are at least 70 sacrifices within the Huaca: all are adult males with their throats cut. Many have broken arm and hand bones. The pathology suggests the men died fighting: their arms hold crushed shields, their fingers broken with maces. While this seems to suggest actual combat, DNA tests show that the men were related to the people living in the city. Thus, they were not invading warriors.

Huaca de la Luna

The Huaca de la Luna is shown above.

The demise of the Moche was brought about by a Mega El Niño that led to 30 years of intense rain followed by 30 years of drought.  

The Green Corn Ceremony

For the Indian nations of the Southeastern United States-Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Seminole, Timucua, and others-corn (maize) was their single most important food. Therefore, corn also played an important part in their religious and ceremonial life.

One of the important ceremonies among the people of the Southeastern Woodlands was the Green Corn Ceremony or puskita (which became Busk in English) which was an expression of gratitude for a successful corn crop. The ceremony was held after the harvest and was a time for renewing life. Old fires were put out, the villages were cleaned, and worn pottery was broken. The Busk would be held when the first corn crop became edible.  This ceremony celebrated both the crop and the sense of community that shaped their lives.  

Among the Creek, the Green Corn Ceremony was held during the Big Ripening Moon (July-August) and was linked to the ripening of the second crop of corn. The ceremony lasted for 8 days in the important towns and for 4 days in the smaller towns. The intent of the ceremony was to rekindle a sense of the sacredness of life. The Busk was marked with a sense of renewal and forgiveness. It included singing, dancing, moral lectures, thanksgiving, and feasting. During the Busk, a new fire would be kindled in the town square. A pure fire would enable the people to communicate their wants to the Maker of Breath, the purifying power that rebalanced the cosmos.

The Green Corn Ceremony was also associated with the quest for spiritual purity. Fasting – one of the principle ways of attaining purity – was an important element in the ceremony. Among the Chickasaw, the fast started on the first afternoon of the ceremony and lasted until the second sunrise. Following the fast an emetic was used to purge the body of all impurities.

Among the Cherokee, the Green Corn Ceremony was the time when people were to forgive debts, grudges, adultery, and all crimes (with the exception of murder).

Among some groups, such as the Tuckabahchee and the Seminole, the Green Corn Ceremony was the time when sacred objects, such as brass and copper plates and medicine bundles, were renewed and publicly displayed. Among the Seminole, this is the time when the medicine bundle is renewed.

With regard to the Seminole’s Green Corn Dance, Danny Billie says:

“It defines who we are and what we are as traditional Indian people. It is the heart and soul of the traditional Seminole way of life.”

Jamestown and the Indians: the First Decade

By the early 17th century, the British were becoming concerned about the inroads which the Catholic French and Spanish were making in North America. In 1606, the British monarch gave a Royal Charter to the Virginia Company to develop a market in the New World for English commerce and for “propagating of Christian Religion to such people, as yet live in darkness.” In this charter, Indians were characterized as living

“in Darkness and miserable Ignorance of the true Knowledge and Worship of God.”

The Virginia Company was founded and directed by a group of merchants and gentry who were motivated in part by the promise of strong economic returns for their investment. In order to exploit the rumored riches of North America, the company planned to build a trading post. From here they would be able to acquire furs and other valuables from the Indians and to sell them manufactured goods and textiles. The English investors also envisioned a search for gold and silver as well as the development of industries, such as the production of naval stores and the manufacture of wooden shingles.  

The Virginia Company also sought the conversion of the heathen (that is, converting Indians to Protestant Christianity), the expansion of the English kingdom, increased revenues for the king, employment for the English vagrant poor, and a market for English manufactured goods.  

Having been granted a Royal Charter, the Virginia Company in 1607 sent three ships to transport 120 colonists into Chesapeake Bay and establish a colony at Jamestown. For the next decade they would be in conflict with the Native American nations in the area.

The English looked upon the land as being un-owned and undeveloped in spite of the fact that they had to trade with the Indians who lived in the area for food. While the food sometimes included wild game, it was mostly from the crops which the Indians had planted and harvested. The English were delighted by some of the Indian crops, including strawberries (which were described as being larger and tastier than those in England) and persimmons. Persimmon bread was a common Indian gift.

Shortly after arrival, Captain John Smith led a small party up the Chickahominy River and was captured by a group of Powhatan (the tribe) under the leadership of Opechancanough. He was taken before the dominant chief, Powhatan (the title of a person), and was eventually released. Smith, described by his contemporaries as a self-promoting mercenary, reported that he had been kept in a comfortable and friendly fashion. Many years later he would tell a somewhat different story about being on the verge of being clubbed to death when a prominent woman intervened and saved his life. In one version of the story, he named Pocahontas (a nickname meaning the “spoiled child”) as the woman who saved his life (she was about 10 years old at the time). He told this story only after the death of Pocahontas and after she had gained some fame among the English.

In 1607, an exploring expedition from the Virginia Company at Jamestown traveled up the James River. When the group encountered some Indians in a canoe, the group’s leader, Christopher Newport, asked them for directions. One of them sketched a map of the river, its falls, and two native kingdoms beyond the falls. At the falls, Newport wanted to continue exploring on foot, but was told by Pawatah, a local village leader, that the Monacan would attack them for entering their territory.

In 1608, the English colonists found that most of their store were rotten or had been eaten by rats. The country-side around them had abundant game, and John Smith encouraged the colonists to live off the land. He sent groups to different places to gather food resources. However, many of the colonists preferred to get food by trading with the Indians. Consequently, materials were stripped from the fort so they could be traded to the Indians. Some colonists deserted to live with the Indians whose way of life they preferred.

The English introduced a new trade item to the Powhatan: sky blue Venetian glass beads. The traders told the Indians that these were a rare substance and that they were worn only by kings.

John Smith and a group of Englishmen travelled south on the Chesapeake Bay and up the Patuxent and Rappahannock Rivers. They had a short battle with the Mannahoac in which they wounded and captured Amoroleck. Amoroleck reported that there were four Mannahoac villages on the Rappahannock, each of which had its own leader. When asked what lay beyond the mountains, he indicated that he did not know as the woods were not burnt. The Indians regularly burned the forests to remove the underbrush and to enhance wild game and plants. Woods which were not burned were areas not used by the Indians, and hence “unknown.”  

The English explorers also made contact with an Algonquian-speaking group whom they called Tockwogh (possibly Nanticoke?). With the help of the Tockwogh, the English then contacted an Iroquoian-speaking group, the Susquehannock and exchanged gifts with them. The English described the Susquehannock as a “giantlike-people”.

Captain John Smith attempted to obtain corn from the Pamunkey who were under the leadership of Opechancanough. When the chief indicated that he was unwilling to trade, the captain held a gun to the chief’s breast and threatened to kill him unless their boats were filled with twenty tons of corn. He also told the Pamunkey that if they did not fill his boats with corn, he would fill it with their dead carcasses.

The British in the seventeenth century felt that any legitimate government must have a monarch. In order to “elevate” the Powhatan to the status of a “real” nation, the English attempted to conduct a coronation ceremony for their chief. In this way, the chief would become a “king” and therefore a legitimate ruler in the eyes of the British. The ceremony was a comedy of cultural misunderstandings as the English attempted to choreograph a feudal ceremony in a society in which in two key elements of the ceremony – the crown and the act of bending the knee – were unknown.

One of the things that lured many English colonists to North America were the many rumors of gold and silver just waiting to be found. In 1608, the English colonists heard about an Indian mine in the interior. Lured by the possibility of gold, John Smith and six others with their Potomac guides in chains marched inland to the mine. They found a great hole dug with shells and hatchets. The mine, developed by the Indians to obtain minerals for making body paints, failed to yield any gold.

The first Anglo-Powhatan war began in 1609. The Powhatan felt that the advantages of trading with the English were not enough to warrant the difficulties which they caused. Part of the conflict came from the failure of the English to understand that the basis for the Indian economic system was generalized reciprocity: that is, one gives a gift to another to show that a social relationship exists and to reinforce that relationship and, in return, the recipient of the gift is expected to give another gift in return. When the colonists failed to make a return gift for a present of turkeys sent to them from the Powhatan, the relationship between the two groups was soured.

The violence between the two groups was sporadic and often disorganized. In one instance, the English were warned of an impending attack by Pocahontas. The English seemed to be unaware that her intervention may have been designed and implemented by the tribal council.

The English settlers were aided by Indian allies-Piscataway, Potomac, Nanticoke-who wanted to free themselves from Powhatan domination.

In 1609, an Anglican minister, Robert Gray, defended Indian ownership of the land which culminated in a general recognition of Indian land rights.

In 1610, chief Powhatan told the English settlers to leave his country or to confine themselves to their settlement at Jamestown. The English colonists were aware that the Indians could exterminate them if they so desired. The Powhatan stopped trading with the English and the colonists faced starvation because they could not obtain the corn and other food they needed from the Indians. It is reported that colonists ate their own dead to survive.

The next war began in 1610 when the English colonists, now reinforced by new soldiers and settlers from England, went to war against their Indian neighbors. They attacked the Pasbahegh, Nansemond, Warraskoyack, Kecoughtan, and Chickahominee. For the next four years, the English waged a brutal and atrocity-filled war against the Indians which resembled the English campaigns in Ireland. The English, under the banner of Jesus Christ, waged a religious war against the Indians whom they saw as the dangerous servants of the Devil.

In one attack, the English colonists destroyed a Paspahegh town, killing the female leader (described as the town’s “queen”) and killing a number of women and children. The women and children were killed after they had been captured. The colonists also burned the town of the Queen of Appamatuck.

In 1613, becoming desperate because of inadequate food supplies, the English colonists sent a ship up the Potomac river in an attempt to reach the Patawamakes and establish friendly trading relations with them.  In establishing friendly relations with the Patawamakes, the English found out that Pocahontas, the favorite daughter of Powhattan, was living among them. They kidnapped her and held her for ransom. To the dismay of the English, no ransom was paid.

As a condition of her release from her English captors, Pocahontas agreed to marry John Rolfe and become known as Rebecca Rolfe. At the marriage ceremony in 1614, Pocahontas was given away by her uncle Opechancanough. Two years later, John Rolfe took Pocahontas to England where she was used as a part of the Virginia Company’s campaign to gain support for their American colonies.

The English colonists concluded a formal, written treaty with the Chickahominy in 1614. In the treaty the Indians agreed to send an annual tribute payment of corn to Jamestown. The treaty between the English and the Chickahominy appears to have been masterminded by Opechancanough. He seems to have deluded the English into believing that the Chickahominy could be trusted allies. At the same time, he drew the Chickahominy into a close relationship with the Powhatan confederacy.

By 1616, Opechancanough had talked the English into instructing his warriors in the use of the new snaphance muskets which used a flint-on-steel ignition. In exchange, Openchancanough allowed the English to give his people Christian instruction.

The English colonists in 1616 found that their food crops were low because they had been energetically promoting the raising of tobacco instead of food crops. They sent for their annual tribute of corn from the Chickahominy. The Indians, however, claimed that they had already paid the tribute. The next day, the English opened fire and killed 20-40 Indians. The English were unaware of the fact that they had been manipulated into this incident by Opechancanough who had advised the Chickahominy to resist the English demands and who had told the English that the Chickahominy were killing English cattle and swine.  

The first decade of Jamestown establishes the pattern of English settlement: while they rely on Indian help for their survival, they are insensitive to Indian concerns. They see the “solution” to the Indian “problem” in hard power: those who have the best weapons must be right, regardless of morality or law.  

The Southeastern Ball Game

Among the Indian nations of the Southeast (Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, Natchez, Seminole), there were two basic ball games which were played. These games had both social and ceremonial meaning.  

Stickball was played with two sticks per player. The ball sticks, made from hickory or pecan, were about two feet long and were bent at one end to form a racket. The balls were made from deerskin which was stuffed with deer or squirrel hair. Players would catch the ball between the nettings of their sticks and then throw it. They were not allowed to strike or catch the ball with their hands. The players, however, could tackle, block, or use any reasonable method to interfere with the other team’s movement of the ball.

Choctaw Stickball

A Choctaw stickball player is shown above.

Points were scored when a player hit the opposing team’s goal post with the ball. Among the Cherokee, a team had to be the first to score 12 points in order to win. The Creek, however, required 20 points in order to win.

The field for the game might be as long as 500 yards or as short as 100 yards. The object of the game was to get the ball between two goal posts or to strike one of the poles with the ball.

Stickball was often used to settle issues between Choctaw communities. This approach to settling internal issues reduced the possibility of civil war. In these instances, the goal posts might be located within each opposing team’s village which meant that the goal posts would be several miles apart.

Among the Choctaw, the players were not allowed to wear moccasins or any clothing other than a breechclout. On the night prior to a game, there would be a dance in which the players would dance in their ballplay outfits and rattle their ballsticks together.

Among some of the tribes, players would not eat rabbit prior to a game as it was felt that this might cause them to become frightened and confused. They also avoided eating frogs because this would make them susceptible to broken bones. Players would generally fast before the game.

The number of players varied greatly. Sometimes there were games with as few as nine players per side, while other times there were games with several hundred players on the field. A game might last several days. Play was rough and it was not uncommon for the players to suffer severe bruises and even broken bones.

The Southeastern nations also have a single pole ball game which is played in ritual context. Like stickball, the single pole game is played with sticks and a small ball. In this game there is a single pole, about 25 feet high, with a wooden effigy of a fish at the top. Seven points are scored when a player manages to strike the fish with the ball. Striking the pole scores two points.

This game has been played for more than 1,000 years. The game is often played in association with the Busk (or Green Corn Ceremony). The game, which is played on sacred ground, brings a sense of balance and harmony by bringing the secular and sacred together.  

Need Assistance

I am searching on information regarding my Grandmother Gladys Antoinette Jones (married name Clure)  I have heard multiple stories that she was Native American and I have tried to find her on and there are not records of her.  My Grandfather was white and his name is Arthur Wallace Clure 1919-1988.  They had a son Larry Arthur Clure my father, and he passed away in 1974.  I have connected all my family history except for my Grandmothers.   I have heard stories that her father my Great Grandfather was named Steptoe Jones (?).  I am lost on where to find other resources to assist in my search.  I am willing to accept any helpful guidance that one may offer.  Thank you!

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