Friendship of the Tuscarora to the United States

The Tuscarora Indians have for more than a century been a firm friend to the United States. In the Revolutionary war they took an active part for the declaration of independence; many took part, but few were enrolled, consequently, but few that drew pension from the United States.

For instance, Nicholas Cusick, a Tuscarora Indian; where shall you look for another instance of friendship, greater than his, towards the distinguished Marquis de Lafayette, or for Christian principle more firm and true than he evinced concerning his pension.

In the war of the Revolution he was under command of Lafayette. Many years after peace was concluded, as he was passing through Washington, he accidentally heard the name of his old commander spoken of in the office in which he stopped on business. The moment his ear caught the sound, his eyes brightened, and full of earnestness he asked, “Is he yet alive?” “Yes,” was the reply, “he is alive and looking well and hearty.” With decided emphasis, he said, “I am glad to hear it.” “Then you knew Lafayette, Mr. Cusick?” “Oh, yes;” he answered. “I knew him well, and many a time in battle threw myself between him and the bullets, for I loved him .”

On asking him if he had a commission, he said, “Yes; General Washington gave me one, and he was Lieutenant.” This suggested to his friends that he was entitled to a pension, and on looking over the records, the truth of what he said was confirmed, and he received one for several years.

Afterwards, congress passed a law making it necessary that each recipient should swear that he could not live without the pension. When the old warrior was called upon to do this, he said, “Now, here is my little log cabin, and it is my own; here is my patch of ground, where I raise my corn and beans, and there is lake Oneida, where I can catch fish; with these I can make out to live without the pension, and to say that I could not, would be to lie to the Great Spirit.”

This is the honor of the Tuscarora hero. How many among those of the white people who receive a pension would have done likewise, for conscience sake. Cusick could speak the English language very well, but when he made an audible prayer, or said grace at the table, he used his native Tuscarora language, “because,” said he, “when I speak in English, I am often at a loss for a word; when, therefore, I speak to the Great Spirit, I do not like to be perplexed, or have my mind distracted to look after a word, when I use my own language, it is like my breath, I am composed.” In this is exemplified that he fully understood the reverence which was due to the great Architect of the universe.

Solomon Longboard, also a Tuscarora Sachem, took an active part in the Revolutionary war, with many others of his nation. In one of their scouting parties, he, with others, was taken captive by the British Indians and brought to fort Niagara, where they were kept for some time, and urged to take up arms and fight against the revolutionists. Finally, this celebrated sachem, Longboard, held a secret council among the captives, and instructed them all to take arms and advance with the British Indians, and use their influence to lead them to a place where they might be captured, and they with the rest, which they successfully effected, and were re-captured by the Americans. Instead of gaining honor and laurels to his crown, he was to be sentenced to be shot as a traitor, but through the entreaties of the Tuscarora chiefs, and the influence of the feasibility of their story that was made on the executives, he was released, but never drew pension as did Mr. Cusick.

The Tuscarora again evinced their friendship for the United States in the war of 1812, when they were asked to guard the Niagara river at Lewiston and down the river, against the British crossing it.

Here again we hear of the Tuscarora sachem, Solomon Longboard, with about thirty-five Tuscarora volunteers, stationed at Lewiston on guard. I have recorded some of the names of these volunteers, which I was able to obtain from some of the old people that were yet living in the year 1878, which are as follows, to-wit: The two sons of Solomon Longboard, Jacob Taylor, Joseph Cusick, John Cusick, David Cusick, John Black Nose and his brother, Samuel Thompson, John Obediah, Aaron Pempleton, James Pempleton, John Mt. Pleasant, Harry Patterson, John Green, Isaac Allen, Capt. Williams, Gau-ya-re-na-twa, Wm. Printup, better known as little Billy, Black Chief, John Printup, Isaac Green, Surgin Green, George Printup. There were but few of these that drew pension, as it was alleged that they were not enrolled upon the army roll.

On the night of December 19th, 1813, the British army and British Indians crossed the Niagara River near Calvin Hotchkis’ place, about two miles below Lewiston. They noticed at first there were lights going across the river during the night, and at the dawn of day were dispatched, Jacob Taylor (better known as Colonel Jacobs), and another Indian to accompany him both being Tuscarora. On their return they reported that the British Indians had crossed the river in great numbers. The news was circulated in the village of Lewiston and the neighboring country that they might evacuate their places and go east, which they did, taking the Ridge road. The Tuscarora volunteers took the rear of the train as they moved eastward, commanded by their Sachem, Solomon Longboard.

The British Indians went on the pursuit. After they had gone about two miles from the village of Lewiston, where the Tuscarora Indians branched off on a road leading to their reservation, known as the Indian hill, or Mountain road. As they had advanced part way up the mountain they observed a Canada Indian on horseback, who headed off some of the train, and among the rest was also Bates Cooke, of Lewiston. One of his legs had, a little previous to that time, been amputated, and the main Canada force were about half a mile in the rear on pursuit. The commander of the Tuscarora force ordered that the Indian heading off the train be shot, which was done by John Obediah. The Indian tumbled off the horse and fell to the ground, and then got up and ran down the little hill into the wood, where it is said he died from the wound he received.

When the report of the gun was heard by the Canadian force and they saw the effect it had on their comrade, they halted. Their commander, Mr. Longboard, of the Tuscarora which numbered at that time twenty-six, from them selected three men and instructed them to get upon and to go along the top of the mountain and to blow a horn occasionally, which they had in their possession, and to keep nearly opposite the Canada Indians. The object was to serve as a scare-crow, to make them believe that there was a force also on the mountain in the act of flanking them. But the remaining force of Mr. Longboard rushed down the mountain with their war whoops as if legion were coming down, and pursued the Canada Indians, while the train of white people had gone on in their flight. The Canada Indians retreated about one mile and a half, near to where the main force were. Then one of their men halted and aimed his gun at one of our men, John Obediah, and the latter also aimed to his opponent, while Samuel Thompson got behind a large elm tree. In the meantime, John Obediah spoke to the stranger in all the different six languages of the Iroquois, but did not get an answer. These were the only two men in pursuit at this time, as the rest of them had halted some ways back. Finally the British Indian retreated backwards, keeping aim as he went, and all at once gave a spring and ran off. The three men that were on the mountain kept occasionally blowing the horn as they went, as the road is parallel with the mountain.

By this time the train of white people had gone quite a good ways in their flight: it is evident that the timely intervention of the Tuscarora Indians, saved great slaughter of men, women and children among the white people.

The Tuscarora then went back and kept in the rear of the white people in their flight. The British Indians perceiving that it was the Tuscarora Indians that killed one of their number and repulsed them, made their way to their reservation, (the nation had already deserted their homes), and began to burn their houses indiscriminately, and also a meeting-house which was built by them, except eight dollars, a convenient chapel where the early Christian Tuscarora such as Sacaresa and Solomon Longboard, both sachems, with many others, delighted to worship the Almighty in the simplicity of their faith. And after they had finished their destruction they went down in pursuit of the fleeing train of white people on the ridge road: by this time the Tuscarora had stationed themselves at a log house, eight or ten miles from Lewiston, near Nathan Peterson’s, which was used as an armory; when the Tuscarora first came, there were a few white men there breaking open the powder kegs in this log house, making it ready to set on fire but the chief, Mr. Longboard, remonstrated in having it burned, and was interpreted to them by Colonel Jacobs, so they consented not to destroy the powder.

When the British Indians came in sight, Mr. Longboard instructed his men to keep moving back and forth from the log house or armory, to a thicket in the rear of the house, for the purpose of making the enemy believe that there was a large force stationed there; the enemy halted and finally went back, and thus the armory was saved. The maneuver of the Tuscarora Indians in these two cases above, was done with but very little sacrifice on their part, but the beneficence was great; but then, who cares anything about that, it was nothing but an Indian affair anyhow; this will probably be the thought of those who peruse my little pages.

When the Tuscarora evacuated their reservation they went to Oneida Castle and remained there during the war. In about the last part of June, 1814, there was a company of volunteers composed of about thirty Tuscarora and a number of Oneida Indians that started from Oneida Castle to Sackett’s Harbor, to join themselves to an army that was commanded by General Brown; on their way there, when they arrived at Tonawanda. an officer came to them and asked where they were going; they answered, “to Sackett’s Harbor, to join General Brown’s army.” The officer said, “that is right;” he then asked them if they lacked anything, and they said, “nothing more than being short of victuals, but we can get along with what game we can procure on the way.” The officer then gave them one dollar each and told them to go and buy some bread.

They then went on, and on the 3rd or 4th of July they crossed the river from Sackett’s Harbor, and on the 4th, they, with General Brown and his army approached an entrenchment of General Riall’s, which was in a strong position. Brown told the Tuscarora that he with his army would attack the enemy direct, “but,” said he, “you must go around and attack the enemy on their flank.”

It is acceded by all American nations that the characteristic of the Indians in their war battles, is to fight in scouting and to attack by surprise: consequently, it seems that General Riall instructed the British Indians, which numbered several hundred, that when he was attacked, they the Indians, should move and attack their enemy also on the flank; it seems that they moved in the shape of a V with the two points foremost. On the 5th occurred the battle of Chippewa; the contest was obstinate and bloody; the Tuscarora Indians in moving on the flank of Brown’s army, they entered in the enemy’s moving V of British Indians, and when they arrived at the fork, and not until then, did the Tuscarora know where they were; but, nevertheless, they all made the war-whoop, fired and made a desperate charge at one point and broke through the ranks of the enemy. Strange as it may seem, there was but one wounded and that slightly on the cheek, and not one killed; it was a very close contest, we getting away with the loss of but a few guns and coats, for when the enemy took hold of their coats they would only pull off and run. It was then that the enemy’s V closed in on the rear of the Tuscarora and the bloody scene began; the enemy fired against themselves, and not until they had completely destroyed themselves did they discover in what frenzy they were; but at length the Americans were victorious. These same Tuscarora were present at the memorable battle at Bridgewater near Niagara Falls, where a desperate engagement, it is said, ensued, commencing about sunset and lasting until midnight, where Generals Brown and Scott were wounded.

In every instance when the United States were in trouble, the Tuscarora were ever ready to sacrifice their blood upon the American altar, which they again fully evinced in the war of the rebellion, when twenty-three of the Tuscarora Indian warriors enlisted as volunteers in the United States army, some of whom died in the service of the country; but some were spared by the good Providence, and were permitted yet to share the sweets of home; some inherited diseases which they will probably carry down to their graves.

In the year 1862 Cornelius C. Cusick, a grandson of Nicholas Cusick, the revolutionist, was commissioned to the office of Second Lieutenant. There were four other Tuscaroras mustered in with him in the 3d N. Y. Volunteers, 132d Reg’t, Co. D, to-wit: Jeremiah Peters, John Peters, Hulett Jacobs, George Garlow, and there are others who enlisted afterwards at different times during the war, to wit:

Twelfth N. Y. Vol’s, Cav., Co. M. Ozias Chew, John Pempleton, Charles Pempleton, Nichodemus Thompssn.

Bat. K, 1st N. Y. Light Art. Samuel Bearfoot (Ely Patterson), Wm. Joseph (Lewis Patterson), Alexander John (Davis Miller), Zhacariah Johnson (Elijah Johnson), Wm. Anderson (Samuel Jack). Clinton Mt. Pleasant, 3Oth, transferred to 31st N. J. Vol’s. Inv. colored brigade. Wilson Jacobs, 1st N. Y., Vet. Cav., Co. M. Edward Spencer (Edward Anderson), Inv. sway. Co. A. 17th Corps. Alvis D. Hewett, 151st N. Y. Vol’s. Thomas Cornelius, Co. K, 2d N. Y. Mounted Rifles. Charles Green, 120th N. Y. Vol’s, Co. K. John Longboard, Samuel Mt. Pleasant.

During the war, Cornelius C. Cusick was promoted to First Lieutenant, and at the close of the war he was promoted to Captain. He was some time afterwards commissioned into the regular army of the United States as First Lieutenant.

Johnson, Elias. Legends, Traditions, and Laws of the Iroquois, or Six Nations and History of the Tuscarora Indians. Lockport, New York: Union Printing and Publishing Co. 1881.

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