Red Jacket Monuments

Red Jacket Sa-go-ye-wat-ha, or Keeper awake 1756 - 1830
Red Jacket
Sa-go-ye-wat-ha, or Keeper awake
1756 – 1830

From the ancient site of Cayuga Castle the Mohawks turned north to the head of the lake. Following the road that once was an Indian trail down the west side of Cayuga Lake, they arrived at Canoga, the site of an ancient Indian village which Indian tradition says was the birthplace of the famous orator Red Jacket. Here on Canoga Creek once stood the village of Skannayutenate, birthplace of Sa-go-ye-wat-ha, the famous Seneca leader. On this ancient village site the warriors saw a monument erected to Red Jacket. The monument contained a picture of a wolf, the clan of Red Jacket and also a tomahawk and pipe. The inscription was as follows: “Red Jacket – Sa-go-ye-wat-ha ‘He Keeps Them Awake’ the orator of the Six Nations of Iroquois – a chief of the Wolf Clan-of the Senecas – born near this spot 1750 – died at Buffalo, N. Y. 1830- erected the by Waterloo Library and Historical Society.”

Sa-go ye-wat-ha ‘He Who Causes Them To Be Awake’ is ranked in a volume of American orators as among the greatest in this country. He was born in 1750 at Canoga on Cayuga Lake, N. Y. S. ‘Others claim he was born at the end of Keuka Lake, but Indian tradition says, Canoga was his birthplace.’ He was of the Wolf Clan of the Seneca Nation. As a boy he bore the name of Otetiana ‘Always Ready’. Later he received the name of Sa-go-ye-wat-ha. During the Revolutionary War the British kept him supplied with red coats of which he was very fond. Because of this he was known among the whites as Red Jacket.

During the Revolutionary War Red Jacket, who fought on the side of England, was a runner and carried important messages for the English. He was never known to have been a warrior and took no part in actual fighting.

Red Jacket had a remarkable memory and a very quick wit. He was always a ready and effective orator. His people recognized in him a fluent speaker and on many occasions used his debating ability in their councils with white men. Red Jacket was a firm believer in the ways of his ancestors. In time he became the great advocate and defender of the Indian faith and the institutions of the Six Nations. To the end he bitterly opposed the culture of the invader. He always championed the religion, customs and government of his people and strove to prevent the sale of Seneca lands to the whites. Bribery or threats, often attempted by land speculators, did not move Sa-go-ye-wat-ha. Only under the influence of liquor a curse that in the end weakened the old chief, did he ever sign to any land sales.

Red Jacket bitterly opposed all Christian missionaries among his people. He treated with unconcealed contempt any Indian who followed the religion of the whites. On one occasion he was asked why he opposed missionaries. His answer was, “Because they do us no good! If they are useful to the white people and do them good, why do they send them among the Indians? If they are useful to the white people and do them good why do they not keep them at home? The white people are surely bad enough to need the labor of everyone who can make them better. These men know that we do not understand their religion. We cannot read their book. They tell us different stories about what it contains, and we believe they make the book talk to suit themselves. The Spirit will not punish us for what we do not know. These black coats talk to the Great Spirit and ask light, that we may see as they do, when they are blind themselves, and quarrel about the light which guides them. These things we do not understand, and the light which they give us makes the straight and plain path trod by our fathers dark and dreary. The black coats tell us to work and raise corn. They do nothing themselves and would starve to death if somebody did not feed them. The Red Men knew nothing about trouble until it came from the white man. As soon as they crossed the great waters they wanted our country and in return have always been ready to teach us to quarrel about their religion. Red Jacket can never be the friend of such men. The Indian can never be like the white man. We are few and weak but may, for a long time, be happy if we hold fast to our country and the religion of fathers!”

From Canoga the warriors headed north to the Great Trail and then west to the City of Geneva. At Geneva, Mr. Robert Breed, a member of the Geneva Historical society and a friend of the Indian People, personally took the warriors to several ancient Seneca village sites and memorials, including the Seneca Indian village site of Kanadesaga.

Once Red Jacket visited a court house where the white people were holding a trial. Red Jacket left with a lawyer friend and pausing outside of the court house door he pointed to the arms of the state where Liberty and Justice were represented. He asked what one of the figures meant. The lawyer answered, “Liberty.” “What him called?” asked Red Jacket pointing to the other figure. “Justice,” replied the lawyer. “Huh!” said Red Jacket, “Where him live now?”

One time a minister-told Red Jacket that Christ had been put to death for the sins of mankind. Red Jacket answered, “Brother, if you white men murdered the son of the Great Spirit, we Indians have nothing to do with it, and it is none of our affair. You must make amends for that crime yourselves.”

Red Jacket was once called to the witness stand in court. Before administering the usual oath to him he was asked if he believed in God and future reward and punishment after death. Looking his questioner straight in the eye, Red Jacket answered, “yes, much more than the white people do if we are to judge by their actions!”

When Red Jacket was an old man a boat was named after him. He addressed the vessel thus, “You have a great name given you. Strive to deserve it. Go boldly into the Great Lakes and fear neither the swift wind nor the stormy waves. Let my example inspire you to courage and lead you to glory.”

Near the end of Keuka Lake is a large impressive monument erected to the mother of Red Jacket. This was visited by the Mohawks.

History, Seneca,


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