Red Jacket, Sagoyewatha, or Keeper Awake

Red Jacket Monument, Forest Lawn Cemetery, Buffalo, New York

Red Jacket monument at Forest Lawn Cemetery, Buffalo, NY
Red Jacket monument at Forest Lawn Cemetery, Buffalo, NY

Much has been said of the speaking ability of this noted Indian. A good example of one of his famous speeches was one that was delivered to a missionary named Cram who visited the Senecas, in 1805. This missionary requested a council with the Senecas, claiming that he had an important message to deliver to them. When the people had assembled, Cram gave a speech in which he told the Indians that they had never worshipped God in a decent manner but that they and their fathers had been in great darkness and error. He informed them that he had been sent to show them the true way to worship God. The Indians waited respectfully until Cram had finished his talk. Red Jacket then arose and speaking for his people delivered the following address:

“Brother: There was a time when our forefathers owned this great island. Their seats extended from the rising to the setting sun. The Great Spirit had made it for the use of Indians. He had created the bear, deer and other animals, and their skins served us for clothing. He had caused the earth to produce corn for bread. All this he had done for his Red Children because he loved them. But an evil day came upon us. Your forefathers crossed the great waters and landed on this island. Their numbers were small. They

found friends and not enemies. They told us they had fled from their own country for fear of wicked men and had come here to enjoy their religion. They asked for a small seat. We took pity on them, granted their request and they sat down among us. We gave them corn and meat and they gave us fire-water in return. The white people had now found our country. Tidings were carried back and more came among us, yet we did not fear them. They called us brothers. We believed them and gave them a large seat. At length their numbers had greatly increased. They wanted more land. They wanted our country. Our eyes were opened and our minds became uneasy. Wars took place. Indians were hired to fight against Indians and many of our people were destroyed. They brought strong liquors among us. It was strong and powerful and has slain thousands.

Brother: Our seats were once large and yours were very small. You have now become a great people, and we have scarcely a place left to spread our blankets. You have got our country now, but you are not satisfied. You want to force your religion upon us.

Brother: Continue to listen. You say that you were sent to instruct us how to worship the Great Spirit agreeably to His mind, and if we do not take hold of the religion which you white people teach, we shall be unhappy hereafter. You say that you are right and that we are wrong. How do we know this to be true? We understand that your religion is in a written book. If it were intended for us as well as you, why has not the Great Spirit given it to us, and not only us, but why did he not give to our forefathers the knowledge of that book with the means of understanding it rightly? We only know what you tell us about it. How shall we know what to believe, being so often deceived by the white people?

Brother: You say there is but one way to worship and serve the Great Spirit. If there is but one religion, why do you white people differ so much about it? Why not all agree, as you can all read the same book? Brother, we do not understand these things. We are told that your religion was given your forefathers and handed down from father to son. We also have a religion which was given to our forefathers and has been handed down to us, their children. It teaches us to be thankful for all the favors we receive, to love each other. WE BELIEVE THAT FORMS OF WORSHIP ARE INDIFFERENT TO THE GREAT SPIRIT. IT IS THE OFFERING OF A SINCERE HEART THAT PLEASES HIM AND WE WORSHIP HIM IN THAT MANNER.

Brother: They say you destroyed the son of the Great Spirit. Perhaps this is the cause of all of your misfortunes. But bear in mind, brother; we had no part in this murder. HAD HE COME AMONG US, WE WOULD HAVE TREATED HIM KINDLY. You white people who murdered him, ought to be forever dammed far doing it.

Brother: Accept this advice and take it back to your friends as the best pledges of our wish for your welfare. Go then, and teach the whites. We hear that you are going to preach to our neighbors, the white people. We will watch awhile and see if your teachings do them any good. If we see that you improve their morals and make them less disposed to cheat Indians, get them drunk and steal their country, we will invite you to come and we will listen to your words. You have now heard our answer to your talk and as we are going to part, we hope that you will have a pleasant journey back to your friends.”

During the first years of the War of 1812 Red Jacket fought for the Americans. Then realizing that his people went only being used as tools in the hands of both England and the United States, he advised his people to remain neutral.

Red Jacket carried with him an unquenchable love for his country. Being forced to leave their beautiful Finger Lake Region and Genesee Country for Buffalo Creek, looking back and seeing the white man’s eye on the remaining few acres left of their country, it was no wonder that Red Jacket and his people were completely baffled and that their hearts were eaten out with despair and remorse. During his last year upon this earth, Red Jacket had the feeling of approaching death. In a last council to his people he made one of his greatest speeches the concluding words of which were: “I am about to leave you, and after I am gone and my warning are no longer heard or regarded, the craft and greed of the white man shall prevail. Many winters I have breasted the storm, but I am an aged tree and can stand no longer. My leaves are fallen, my branches withered and I am shaken by every breeze. Soon my aged trunk will lie prostrate and the foot of the exulting foe of the Indian may be placed upon it in safety, for I will have nothing left to avenge such an indignity. Think not that I mourn for myself, for I go to join the spirits of my fathers, but my heart fails me when I think of my people, who are so soon to be scattered and forgotten.”

Red Jacket died at Docioweh or Buffalo Creek in 1830, aged 78 years. His remains were buried in the old Indian graveyard in South Buffalo but later ‘1884’ found an imposing resting place in Forest Lawn Cemetery, Buffalo, where a handsome monument was erected over his grave by the Buffalo Historical Society. Beside him lie other famous Senecas among whom are Ely Parker, Deerfoot and others.

Leaving the grave of Red Jacket, the Mohawks headed west to the Niagara River which they crossed over on a large bridge, said to have been built by Indian steel workers. Following the shore of Lake Erie they arrived at the Grand River. They followed the winding river to its head and soon arrived in Six Nation Country. At the Indian Village of Ohsweken, near the Connell House, they saw a cut stone monument erected to commemorate the loyal services of the Six Nations or Iroquois Indians to the British Empire. At Oshweken, the Indian center of the Six Nations Country, the young Mohawks also saw a new war memorial bearing the names of 22 members of the Six Nations who gave their lives in World War II. This monument was unveiled on Sunday, May 29, 1949. The Principal speaker was a Mohawk, Mr. Oliver M. Martin, York County Magistrate. He said, “When the white man came to America the New World, we welcomed him. We fed him when he was hungry, doctored him when he was ill, and taught him to live off the land in a country that was strange to him.”

Leaving the Council House the Mohawks headed up the river, passing the noted Mohawk poetess, Pauline Johnson. This homestead was called “Chiefswood” and here lived Chief George H. Martin, Head Chief of the Six Nation Council. From Chiefswood, the Mohawks headed for the City of Brantsford, named after Captain Joseph Brant, famous war captain of the Mohawks during the Revolutionary War period.


Buffalo New York,


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