Pre-emptive right to the Indian reservations, sold to the Ogden Company

Though the Indian lands within the state of New York, had now been narrowed down to a comparatively small compass, there were not wanting those who would take from them, the remaining portion of their ancient inheritance. The preemptive right to their reservations was sold by the Holland Land Company, to Colonel Aaron Ogden and others, who were known as the Ogden Company. The efforts of these gentlemen to induce the Indians to dispose of their reservations, resulted in calling several Indian councils, at which Red Jacket was the prominent speaker, and in which the entire force of his great powers was summoned, to withstand and thwart their endeavors.

A council for this purpose was convened at their village near Buffalo, during the summer of 1819. The Hon. Morris S. Miller of Oneida, was present as a commissioner on the part of the United States; and the Hon. Nathaniel Gorham of Canandaigua, represented the interests of the state of Massachusetts. Captain Parrish of Canandaigua, and Captain Horatio Jones of Genesee, were present as interpreters.

As it was known Red Jacket was to speak in opposition to the interests of the Land Company, the occasion drew together a large concourse of people; pale faces as well as red, who were interested in the result of the negotiations contemplated, as also by a desire to hear the speech of the distinguished orator of the Seneca. Of this Colonel Stone remarks: “No subsequent assemblage of the Indians within the state of New York, has presented so numerous and imposing an array, nor is it likely that so many of them will ever again meet, on the soil of their fathers.”

A gentleman who was present at this treaty by the invitation of a friend, speaks of it, in the following terms: “My friend and myself having arrived on the ground at an early hour; we saw at a little distance from the wigwams, a group of Indians, under the shade of a cluster of plum trees, lying on the ground. Among these were a number of chiefs, of whom in a conspicuous place, was Red Jacket, apparently in deep thought, with a pile of little small sticks, two or three inches long, before him.

“I inquired of a gentleman who was conversant with Indian proceedings, what Red Jacket was doing? He replied that he was studying his speech, and advised us to retire, as he perceived it disturbed him. About this time the commissioners, Governor Ogden, his friends, and the two celebrated Indian interpreters, Parrish and Jones, and a large concourse of people, gentlemen and ladies, began to assemble under another cluster of trees, where benches had been prepared in two parallel lines, with a wide space between, and seats across the upper end, for the commissioners. The long seats were occupied on the right by Messrs. Ogden, their officers, and other gentlemen and ladies; the left by Red Jacket, a large number of chiefs, and other Indians.

“There was order, dignity, and perfect silence. The contest soon commenced. Governor Ogden, a dignified, fine looking man, rose and opened the case. Mr. Parrish, a man of large stature, stood up at the same time, and interpreted it to the Indians, sentence by sentence 1 .”

The object was to buy the Indian title, as they had already brought the pre-emptive right. Governor Ogden told them it was the wish of their great Father, the President of the United States, that they should sell these lands, and go down to a reservation on the Allegany river, where they could live in peace, and have a good foothold forever; and used various arguments in favor of such a course.

After Governor Ogden had finished his speech, Red Jacket rose with a great deal of composure, and adjusting his belt of handsome wampum, and looking to the sky for a moment spoke. Mr. Parrish interpreted: “Red Jacket says he thanks the Great Spirit that we are all alive and here this pleasant day.” He then addressed the commissioners, answering all the statements and arguments of Governor Ogden in their order, unfolding a long roll of parchments attached together, of treaties that had been made at different times by the United States, with the Six Nations. They had been preserved in good order. He pointed to the dates, and to the substance of the treaties from time to time, with great accuracy, as appeared from the interpretation, answering Governor Ogden with the most forcible arguments, interspersed with wit and humor. His speech on this occasion, as quoted by Col. Stone, is as follows:

“Brother: We understand that you have been appointed by our great Father, the President, to make these communications to us. We thank the Great Spirit for this pleasant day given us for our reply, and we beg you to listen.

“BROTHER: Previous to your arrival at this council fire, we were told that our great Father had appointed a commissioner to meet us. You have produced your commission, and it has been read and explained to us. You have also explained the object of your mission, and the wishes of the President in sending you to the council fire of the Six Nations. We do not doubt that the sealed document you produced, contained the words of the President, our great Father. When first informed of your appointment, we supposed that you were coming to meet us on a very different subject. Since the war of the Revolution, we have held various councils with our white brothers, and in this same manner. We have made various speeches, and entered into several treaties, and these things are well known to our great Father; they are lodged with him. We, too, perfectly understand them all. The same interpreters were then present as now. In consequence of what took place during the late war, we made it known to our great Father, through our interpreter, that we wished to have a talk. Our application was not complied with. We sent a messenger to brighten the chain of friendship with our great Father, but he would not meet around the council fire, and we were disappointed. We had supposed that the commissioner he has now sent, came forward to brighten the chain of friendship, to renew former engagements. When we made a treaty at Canandaigua with Colonel Pickering in 1794, we were told, and thought that it was to be permanent, and to be lasting, between us and the United States forever. After several treaties had been entered into under our great Father, General Washington, large delegations from the Six Nations were invited to meet him. We went and met him in Philadelphia. We kindled a council fire. A treaty was then made, and General Washington then declared that it should be permanent between the red and white brothers; that it should be spread out on the largest and strongest rocks, that nothing could undermine or break; that it should be exposed to the view of all.

“BROTHER: We shall now see what has been done by the United States. After this treaty had been formed I then said that I did not doubt, but that the United States would faithfully perform their engagements. But I told our white brothers at that time, that I feared eventually they would wish to disturb those contracts. You white brothers have the faculty to burst the stoutest rocks. On our part we would not have disturbed those treaties. Shortly after our interview with our great Father, General Washington, at Philadelphia, a treaty was made at Canandaigua, by which we widened our former engagements with our white brothers, and made some new ones. The commissioner, Colonel Pickering, then told us that this treaty should be binding and should last, without alteration for two lives. We wished to make it extend much farther, and the Six Nations then wished to establish a lasting chain of friendship. On our part, we wished the treaty to last as long as trees grow, and waters run. Our Brother told us that he would agree to it.

“BROTHER: I have reminded you of what had taken place between our confederates, the Six Nations, and our white brothers, down to the treaty of Canandaigua. At the close of that treaty it was agreed, it being as strong and binding, as by my former comparisons I have explained, that if any difficulty should occur, if any monster should cross the chain of friendship, that we would unite to remove those difficulties, to drive away the monster; that we would go hand in hand and prolong the chain. So it was agreed.

“BROTHER: Many years ago we discovered a cloud rising that darkened the prospect of our peace and happiness. We heard eventful things from different quarters, from different persons, and at different times, and foresaw that the period was not very distant, when this threatening cloud would burst upon us.

“BROTHER: During the late war we intended to take no part. Yet residing within the limits of the United States, and with the advice of General Porter, we agreed around our council fire, that it was right, and we took a part. We thought it would help to promote our friendship with our white brothers, to aid the arms of the United States, and to make our present seats still stronger. These were our reasons. What were the results? We lost many of our warriors. We spilt our blood in a cause between you, and a people not of our color.

“BROTHER: These things may be new to you, but they are not new to your government. Records of these things are with our great Father, the President. You have come, therefore, for a very different purpose from the one we expected. You come to tell us of our situation, of our reservations, of the opinion of the President that we must change our old customs for new ones; that we must concentrate in order to enjoy the fair means you offer of civilization, and improvement in the arts of agriculture.

“BROTHER: At the treaty of Canandaigua, we were promised that different kinds of mechanics, blacksmiths, and carpenters, should be sent among us; and farmers with their families, that our women might learn to spin. We agreed to receive them. We even applied for these benefits. We were told that our children were too young to be taught. Neither farmers or mechanics were sent.

“BROTHER: We had thought that the promises made by one President, were handed down to the next. We do not change our chiefs as you do. Since these treaties were made, you have had several Presidents. We do not understand why the treaty made by one, is not binding on the other. On our part we expect to comply with our engagements.

“BROTHER: You told us when the country was surrounded by whites, and in possession of Indians, that it was unproductive, not being liable to taxes, nor to make roads nor improvements, it was time to change. As for the taxing of Indians, this is extra-ordinary; and was never heard of, since the settlement of America. The land is ours, by the gift of the Great Spirit. How can you tax it? We can make such roads as we want, and did so when the land was all ours. We are improving our condition. See these large stocks of cattle, and those fences. We are surrounded by the whites, from whom we can procure cattle, and whatever is necessary for our improvement. Now that we are confined to narrow limits, we can easily make our roads, and improve our lands.

“Look back to the first settlement by the whites, and then look at our present condition. Formerly we continued to grow in numbers, and in strength. What has become of the Indians, who extended to the salt water? They have been driven back and become few, while you have been growing numerous, and powerful. This lands is ours, from the God of Heaven. It was given to us. We cannot make land. Driven back and reduced as we are, you wish to cramp us more and more. You tell us of a pre-emptive right. Such men you say own one reservation, and such another. But they are all ours, ours from the top to the bottom. If Mr. Ogden had come from heaven, with flesh on his bones, as I we now see him, and said that the Heavenly Father had given him a title, we might then believe him.

“BROTHER: You say that the President has sent us word that it is for our interest to dispose of our lands. You tell us that there is a good tract of land at Allegany. This too is very extraordinary. Our feet have covered every inch of that reservation. A communication like this has never been made to us, at any of our councils. The President must have been disordered in mind, when he offered to lead us off by the arms, to the Allegany reservation. I have told you of the treaty we made with the United States. Here is the belt of wampum, that confirmed that treaty. Here too is the parchment. You know its contents. I will not open it. Now the tree of friendship is decaying; its limbs are fast falling off. You are at fault.

“Formerly we called the British brothers. Now we call the President, our Father. Probably among you, are persons with families of children. We consider ourselves the children of the President. What would be your feelings, were you told that your children were to be cast upon a naked rock, there to protect themselves? The different claims you tell us of, on our lands, I cannot understand. We are placed here by the Great Spirit, for purposes known to him. You have no right to interfere. You told us that we had large and unproductive tracts of land. We do not view it so. Our seats, we consider small; and if we are left here long, by the Great Spirit, we shall stand in need of them. We shall be in want of timber. Land after many years’ use wears out; our fields must be renewed, and new ones improved, so that we have no more land in our reservations than we want. Look at the white people around us, and back. You are not cramped for lands. They are large. Look at that man 2 . If you want to buy, apply to him. He has lands enough to sell. We have none to part with. You laugh, but do not think I trifle. I am sincere. Do not think we are hasty in making up our minds. We have had many councils, and thought for a long time upon this subject. We will not part with any, not with one of our reservations.

“We recollect that Mr. Ogden addressed his speech to you, therefore I have spoken to you. Now I will speak to Mr. Ogden.

“BROTHER: You recollect when you first came to this ground, that you told us you had bought the pre-emptive right. A right to purchase given you by the government. Remember my reply. I told you, you had been unfortunate in buying. You said you would not disturb us. I then told you as long as I lived, you must not come forward to explain that right. You have come. See me before you. You have heard our reply to the commissioner sent by the President. I again repeat that, one and all, chiefs and warriors, we are of the same mind. We will not part with any of our reservations. Do not make your application anew, nor in any other shape. Let us hear no more of it. Let us part as we met, in friendship.”

Col. Stone refers to the kindness of Major Joseph Delafield, for the speeches made at this council, as given in his work, and the most important of which is presented here; they were taken down at the time from the lips of the interpreter, who stated that “he could not translate some of Red Jacket’s figurative flights, they were too wild and difficult to be rendered in English, and he did not attempt it.” Much doubtless that served to give point and zest to his speech, was either omitted, or lost its force, in being transferred to our language. The writer of the sketch previously alluded to, among several points in this speech which were impressed on his memory, mentions one not found in the above. “The gentleman says, that our great Father says, we can go Allegany, and have a good foothold forever; yes, a good foothold, for it is all rock.”

Though the efforts of the Ogden Company to obtain the consent of the Indians to sell their remaining lands, were at this time unsuccessful, they were nevertheless repeated. The demand of Red Jacket, “do not make your application anew, nor in any other shape,” was unheeded.

Col. Stone, on the authority of the Hon. Albert Tracy, mentions a treaty held for this same purpose in 1822 or 1823, in which Red Jacket replied to a speech made by the commissioner, and also by Governor Ogden, entering, as in the preceding speech, upon a regular and connected history of the transactions of the Indians with the whites, up to that time, and in the course of his speech, used the language very happily alluded to by Mr. Bryant, in his memorial address.

At the close of the speech that has been quoted almost entire, some of his people desired him to apologize for one or two utterances he had made, regarding them as rude, and adapted to awaken unpleasant reflections. He refused, saying, “NO, IT HAS GONE FORTH, LET IT STAND.” A circumstance doubtless alluded to, in the words which immediately follow: “Often the fierceness of his temper, the righteous indignation that swelled his bosom, impelled him to hurl defiance at his foes, and to use language, the possible consequences of which, caused the more timid and abject of his followers, to tremble with apprehension. But Red Jacket would retract not a single word, although a majority of the chiefs, would sometimes secretly deprecate the severity of his utterances.”

“Again on other occasions, sorely beset and almost despairing, he would essay to melt the hearts of the pitiless pursuers of his people, and give utterance to such touching words as these:

“We first knew you a feeble plant, which wanted a little earth whereon to grow. We gave it to you, and afterward, when we could have trod you under our feet, we watered and protected you; and now you have grown to be a mighty tree, whose top reaches the clouds, and whose branches overspread the whole land; whilst we, who were then the tall pine of the forest, have become the feeble plant and need your protection.”

“Again assuming the pleading tones of a supplicant, he said, ‘when you first came here, you clung around our knee, and called us FATHER. We took you by the hand and called you BROTHERS. You have grown greater than we, so that we can no longer reach up to your hand. But we wish to cling around your knee, and be called YOUR CHILDREN.'”

In this same speech, referring to their services during the late war with England, he said:

“Not long ago you raised the war-club against him, who was once our great Father over the waters. You asked us to go with you to the war. It was not our quarrel. We knew not that you were right. We asked not; we cared not; it was enough for us, that you were our brothers. We went with you to the battle. We fought and bled for you; and now,” his eye kindling with emotion, and the deepest feeling indicated in his utterance, as he pointed to some Indians present, that had been wounded in that contest; “and now, dare you pretend to us, that our Father the President, while he sees our blood running, yet fresh from the wounds received, while fighting his battles, has sent you with a message to persuade us to relinquish the poor remains of our once boundless possessions; to sell the birth place of our children, and the graves of our fathers! No! Sooner than believe that he gave you this message, we will believe that you have stolen your commission, and are a cheat and a liar.”

Once more, speaking of the pre-emptive right and the assurance given them that their lands were desired only in return for a fair equivalent of their value, he called their attention to the great cessions the Indians had already made, together with the solemn declarations that they should not be importuned to relinquish their remaining reservations, he said: “You tell us of your claim to our land, and that you have purchased it from your State. We know nothing of your claim, and we care nothing for it. Even the whites have a law by which they cannot sell what they do not own. How then has your State, which never owned our land, sold it to you? We have a title to it, and we know that our title is good; for it came direct from the Great Spirit, who gave it to us, his red children. When you can ascend where he is,” pointing toward the skies, “and will get his deed, and show it to us, then, and never till then, will we acknowledge your title. You say you came not to cheat us of our lands, but to buy them. Who told you that we have lands to sell? You never heard it from us.”

Then rising up and giving Mr. Ogden a look of deep earnestness, if not of indignation, he said:

“Did I not tell you the last time we met, that whilst Red Jacket lived, you would get no more lands of the Indians? How then, while you see him alive and strong,” striking his hand violently on his breast, “do you think to make him a liar?”

The persistence with which the Seneca were importuned to sell their lands, led them to make an appeal to the president, and afterward to the governor of New York.

The latter, Governor De Witt Clinton, sent them a reply worthy of his name and office. It is as follows:

“All the right that Ogden and his company have to your reservations, is the right of purchasing them when you think it expedient to sell them, that is, they can buy your lands, but no other person can. You may retain them as long as you please, and you may sell them to Ogden as soon as you please. You are the owners of these lands in the same way that your brethren the Oneidas, are of their reservations. They are all that is left of what the Great Spirit gave to your ancestors. No man shall deprive you of them without your consent. The State will protect you in the full enjoyment of your property. We are strong and willing to shield you from oppression. The Great Spirit looks down on the conduct of mankind, and will punish us if we permit the remnant of the Indian nations which is with us to be injured. We feel for you, brethren; we shall watch over your interests. We know that in a future world we shall be called upon to answer for our conduct to our fellow creatures.”

Col. Stone refers to the Hon. Albert H. Tracy, as having furnished the notes of the council we have just been considering. The same authority speaking of the eloquence of Red Jacket, says: “It is evident that the best translations of Indian speeches, must fail to express the beauty and sublimity of the originals; especially of such an original as Red Jacket. It has been my good fortune to hear him a few times, but only of late years, and when his powers were enfeebled by age, and still more, by intemperance. But I shall never forget the impression made on me, the first time I saw him in council:

“Deep on his front engraven, “Deliberation sate, and public care, “And princely counsel in his face yet shone, “Majestic, though in ruin.

“I can give no idea of the strong impression it made on my mind, though conveyed to it through the medium of an illiterate interpreter, Even in this mangled form, I saw the “disjecta membra” of a regular and splendid oration 3 .”

The Ogden Company though defeated time and again by the watchfulness, and powerful influence of Red Jacket, continued to ply their endeavors, until by degrees, the remaining portion of their once proud inheritance, was wrested from them, and the orator was left in the decline of life to survey, as he often did in a spirit of dejection, the haunts of his youth, which had nearly all passed into other hands, through the craft and avarice of the white man.Citations:

  1. Author’s Scrap Book.[]
  2. Mr. Ellicott, agent of the Holland Land Company.[]
  3. Col. Stone’s Life and Times of Red Jacket.[]

Hubbard, John Niles. n Account of Sa-Go-Ye-Wat-Ha, or Red Jacket, and His People, 1750-1830. Self Published. 1885.

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