Industry and Home Life on the Reservations

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Farming is the chief employment of the Six Nations Indians, and the products are typical of the varying soils of the different reservations. While more land is under cultivation than heretofore, the barns are mainly old and in had condition. This is largely true of similar buildings upon the adjoining farms of the white people, as farming has not of late netted an amount sufficient for repairs. The Indians, with no cash capital us a rule, have been compelled to lease their lands to the white people for cash rent or work them on shares. The death of influential men left large estates under pecuniary burdens without ready money to develop the land. The general failure to maintain fencing has been partly due to crop failures and scant returns, but in a large degree to the improvidence of the farmers themselves. Men who work their lands and seldom rent them; and who maintain buildings and fences and take fair care of their implements, keep steadily on the advance. In nearly all directions valuable agricultural implements are exposed to the weather, and no economy attends farm work generally.

With the exception of Tuscarora, old orchards are on the decline, and more than one-half of the 4,823 apple trees of Cattaraugus are, not in condition, through age and neglect, to bear large crops. A few new orchards have been started, but there is neither Indian labor attainable nor sufficient money realized from crops to hire other labor; neither is there any method by which tillable and arable land can be turned into money. With few exceptions, farming is done under wearing conditions, and many young men prefer to seek other employment.

The business of farming, except by a few of the St. Regis Indians, is carried on only to the extent of barely securing crops for home use. A larger proportion of the St. Regis than of any other Indians own at least 1 horse, and a cow is regarded as a necessity; hence small crops of corn and oats are found quite general among those of small means. Neglect of the few implements used and the wretched condition of the fences testify to a lack of ambition in agricultural labor.

For many years each reservation had its agricultural fair grounds, with annual exhibitions, which stimulated both stock raising and farming, and handsome profits were realized. Premiums were awarded, and the state of New York contributed its part. Horse races, foot races, and games attracted large attendance, but their Management fell into speculative hands, and, being distrusted, the best farmers ceased to compete for premiums and withdrew their support. All the grounds on the Cattaraugus reservation, except those of the Iroquois Agricultural Society, have been converted to other uses. The annual fair held at Cattarangus in 1890 was widely published, and the programme included games, races, and premiums, with a Grand Army reunion: The attendance was small, even from the immediate neighborhood, the exhibition hardly more than several good farms could have furnished singly, and the receipts were insufficient to pay the incidental expenses of the enterprise. The result was that at the annual meeting for election of officers the old life members rallied their strength and elected as a board the most efficient men on the reservation. The recognized decline, of interest in county fairs elsewhere had its effect upon these reservation fairs; but they had become occasions for questionable games and ceased to command respect and support.

The value of farm implements and the crop statement afford a fair idea of the real farming done on the respective reservations. Steam thrashers; self-binding reapers, and the best adjuncts to hand labor have accumulated, but the tendency of late to lease lands has caused a suspension of the purchase of these implements. Much that is called farming is simply a listless living off the small patches of land adjoining houses or cabins. At the same, time they erect their own buildings and do good work. A house at Onondaga was built entirely by the owner, and exhibits tasteful inside, finish, furnishing, paper, and paint.

Stock Raising

Only 28 sheep are reported. Formerly many were raised on Tuscarora, Cattaraugus, and Allegany, and some on the other reservations. There is such danger from dogs that the industry has been abandoned. Now and then one man keeps good stock for propagation as a business. There are in all 11 stallions and 9 bulls upon the reservations, belonging to farmers who desire to raise their own stock for drafter other home purposes. One man at Tonowanda makes a specialty of Chester white swine, but mainly for his own use. With the exception of the fancy stock of one person, the ordinary domestic fowls fall into every farm list as barnyard fowls for home use. Very little butter is made, for the general market, especially at Cattaraugus, in the vicinity of cheese factories. The large amount of green pease and sweet corn is accounted for by the existence of large canning establishments on the eastern border of the reservation.

Basket Making

Many of the old people are proficient in basket making. The summer resorts of Niagara and Saratoga, as well as the state and county fairs of New York, afford a ready market for their wares. Besides the ash and hickory splint, corn husks are also used for baskets, salt bottles; and sieves. Among the old fashioned people, partly from habit as well as for economy, the domestic industries of their ancestors are still practiced.

Basket making has recently risen to the most important place among the activities of the St. Regis Indians. It occupies the time of one or more in nearly every family, and the schedules show that nearly one-sixth of the entire population have suddenly concentrated their energies upon this occupation. It guarantees a good support, with prompt pay, and the beauty, variety, and artistic combinations of the new designs prove the enterprise a success. The sales made daring the census year by the St. Regis Indians netted a little more than $55,000, or an average of $250 to each family, and nearly ten times as much as was realized from the sale of crops by the few farmers who made farming their regular business.

Already enterprising firms have seized upon this expanded basket industry, so that a single house at Auburn has extended its agencies throughout the United States. To the Indian a new field is opened, and this work becomes a standard occupation, on as sound a basis as any other hand manufacture, and is simulative of systematic industry. The introduction of standard dyes and the obligation to follow patterns, instead of indifference as to similarity in the stock of any single invoice, develop the Indian where he is most deficient. It also cuts off his roaming, peddling habits, and secures for him not only homework but a home market. The subdivision of the labor, as witnessed in many families, also has its good effect.

The Tuscaroras near Niagara are especially skilled in beadwork, but every reservation has its experts as well as its novices at this calling. Among the Saint Regis Indians 10 or 12 engage in beadwork, but the demand is very small and confined mainly to summer watering places. Twenty-seven sewing machines were’ in use by the St. Regis Indians. Berry picking and nutting employ many, especially women. One buyer of Allegany gave employment during the census year to as many as 50 persons, who earned from $2 to $4 per day, realizing 1,000 bushels of blackberries alone during the season.

Sugar Making

Sugar making, which formerly figured largely upon the annual reports of Indian agents, has disappeared with the maple trees, which were sold for wood. A small but young maple grove at Tonawanda, also one of 200 trees at Cattaraugus, several groves of small trees at St. Regis, and a few hundred scattering trees are the only hints of this once profitable industry.

Root and herb gathering has almost disappeared. One of the Turtle tribe at Tuscarora, now 75 years of age, has had prolonged success as an Indian doctor, and one of Allegany devotes much time to collecting and drying the black cohosh and stone root for Buffalo druggists; but the days of the old medicine man have passed away. Young men from each of the reservations are traveling men for so-called Indian medicines, and make themselves welcome and successful through the prestige of their Indian character and good address.

Other young men have joined traveling shows as acrobats or minstrels, and others have played the part of musicians in theatrical orchestras or bands. These classes of industry, with their contact with the world and fair wages, draw enterprising men from home and largely reduce the percentage o of intelligent labor on the reservations.

Trapping, Hunting, and Fishing

Trapping and hunting are almost unknown. A few St. Regis Indians act as professional guides to tourists, who make the vicinity of St. Regis the base of visitation to the streams and forests of Canada.

Fishing still occupies a few families of the St. Regis at the mouth of the Raquette River. The only suits at law brought against these Indians were such as grew out of their resistance to the execution of the New York game laws. The Indians claim that their fishing rights under formal treaties can not be set aside by state statutes. As a matter of fact, the sawmills so fill the channel with sawdust that the number of game fish that can reach the vicinity of white settlers is absolutely insignificant. The few families that fish catch suckers and mullets for the most part, and just about enough to supply the market demand of the reservation each spring.

The following, copied from the special schedule of 1 family, illustrates what 1 thorough farmer exhibited as his standing during the census year:

Under Cultivation, A peach orchard of 90 acres, an apple orchard of 200 trees, 200 maple trees, and 1 acre of raspberries, Crops. Oats, 300 bushels; wheat, 100 bushels; buckwheat, 20 bushels; beans, 40 bushels; corn, 100 bushels; turnips, 20 bushels; potatoes, 150 bushels; onions, 20 bushels; 250 cabbages, and 15 tons of hay.

Stock, Three horses and 1 colt, 8 cows, 1 heifers, 3 calves, 5 sheep, 29 swine, 2 hives of bees, and 150 domestic fowls.

Implements, Self-binding reaper, mower, fanning mill, harrows, 2 large and 13 small cultivators, plows, horse hoe and corn speller, hoes and hand potato diggers, lumber wagon, spring wagon, buggy, sled, sleigh, and cutter.

Mechanical Trades, Mechanical trades are followed by few and apprenticeships are rare. The Indians are unable to buy tools, and carpentry, smithing, and house painting are only engaged in sufficiently for local demand, 2 carpenters, 1 blacksmith, 1 stonemason, and 3 “job- workers” constituting the force of professional mechanics, and 2 doctors, 1 nurse, 1 teacher, and nearly 20 traveling showmen complete the occupations of the St. Regis Indians.

Among the Six Nations Indians, while many are poor, there are but few absolute paupers. One old man on the Tonawanda reservation is a wanderer from house to house, and 2 upon the Cattaraugus reservation, alike aged, depend upon transient charity. During the year 1890 the state agent at the Onondaga reservation furnished relief to several needy families upon the order of the chiefs from funds in his possession collected for the nation as the rent of quarries placed in his custody. Overseers of the poor appointed by the Indians have general oversight of needy eases, and the general hospitality among these people rarely fails to meet every case with prompt relief. There are a few chronic loafers on each reservation, who hang around and live upon their neighbors at random, but the proportion of such cases is not greater than among white people. Sympathetic aid to the really needy is proverbial.

Social Life, Games, and Amusements

There is as much variety in the social life and manners of the Six Nations Indians as between the white people of different states or sections. Among the pagans the stated dances afford the chief occasions for “parties and suppers”. The “maple dance”, when the sap first flows in the spring, has lost of its zest, as the sugar maple has almost disappeared. The “berry festival” (ha-nun-da-yo) celebrates the advent of the strawberry, ”the first ripening fruit”, and the berries, prepared in large bark trays and sweetened with maple sugar, attract old and young to the delicious repast and the general merrymaking at its close. When the whortleberry comes, “the first fruit of trees”, a similarly jolly occasion is experienced. The green corn festival (ah-oake-wa-o) honors the first standard product of tilling the soil. A previous ” planting festival”, where Indians had “spells” of helping each other, as they still do in chopping wood and raising houses and barns, brought many together, but “good things to eat” formed the chief attraction. There are 13 festivals; all of them, aside from exercises that are strictly “religious “, abound in stories, wit, repartee, and badinage, characteristic of the Indian, who has a keen sense of humor, is ready with practical jokes, and quick to see the grotesque or ridiculous.

The same spirit prevails among the Christians, but as their religious observances follow different methods their social reunions are usually “surprise parties”, although every year has its picnic, in which everybody joins. On one occasion nearly 100 persons, old and young, gathered, without warning to the host, well supplied with choice cake, cold meats, and accompaniments. Instrumental and vocal music, jokes, and Merrymaking ran on until o o’clock in the morning. At an Onondaga reception a brass band furnished music, and a bountiful supper followed. Christmas has its usual civilized observances. In 1890 the Presbyterian Church at Cattaraugus had 3 large Christmas trees as high as the ceiling loaded with presents for each of the 300 or more who were gathered.

The accusation that these Indians indulge in vulgar stories is refuted by careful observation and the judgment of trustworthy writers upon Indian life and character. Indian vocabularies are especially deficient in the means of profaning the Great Spirit. Their manner of living has been degraded and at times beastly, but no worse than among the debased white people in well-known sections of the United States.

The National Game

The favorite national game is ball (o-ta-da-jish-qua-age), of great antiquity, which has become the modern game of lacrosse. Representatives of the 4 brother tribes or clans, the Wolf, Bear, Beaver, and Turtle, are matched against their cousins, the corresponding brothers, the Deer, Snipe, Heron, and Hawk. Victory falls to the credit of the nation represented instead of to the players. Two poles are set up at each end of the grounds, at a distance of from 1 to 3 rods, and the contest is for competing parties of 5 or 7 to carry the ball through its own gate a designated number of times. Five or 7counts make a game, and 9 games are allowed if, after playing 8, the game be tied. The play begins in the center, and neither party is allowed to touch the ball with hand or foot. Managers are pledged to honorable umpire duty. Betting was systematically regulated formerly, and the friends of players were kept on opposite sides of the field to avoid possible collision during the wild shouts and demonstrations, which followed victory.

The game of javelin (gi-geh-da-ga-na-ga-o) is played by throwing a javelin of hickory or maple at a ring, either stationary or in motion, and is still a favorite spring and autumn game. Snow snake (ga-wa-sa) is still popular, and consists in sending a long shaft of hickory, with a round head slightly turned up and pointed with lead, swiftly over the snow in an undulating course to the distance of 300 yards, and even a quarter of a mile. Archery continues in favor, and the “deer button” or “peach stone” is a fireside game for winter evening sport. It is a game of chance, with a pool to draw from, each person receiving 5 at first and playing until he loses. The shaking of the buttons, stones, or beans, which are marked and have different values, is on the principle of throwing dice, and hours are often taken to decide a game. Blindman’s buff is another house game in high favor.

The Pagan Dance

The pagan dance is already taking on the shape of an innocent masquerade. At Newtown, the pagan settlement near the eastern line of Cattaraugus, a billiard table has been introduced, notwithstanding the prejudice, against admitting any amusements not having the sanction of their fathers. All games are now public and decently conducted, without any attempt at secrecy or mystery. With the St. Regis Indians games are few, that of lacrosse being most prominent. Occasionally shows or public performances take place, and attempts at stage performances; but while this is enjoyed, the people are deficient in the musical taste which distinguishes members of the other nations of the league, especially the Senecas.

Marriage and the Indian Home

Statistics very inadequately convey ideas respecting marriage customs and family relations among the Indians of the Six Nations. Relating to Indian or pagan marriage, using the term pagan in the Indian sense, the Indian divorce, separation, or putting away has been a matter of choice, not necessarily mutual, but at the will of the dissatisfied party. The chiefs have sanctioned it and practiced it, as well as the people, and to a considerable extent they still uphold the custom. The laws of New York forbid its exercise, but the extension to the peacemaker courts of the power to legalize separation and divorce is but feebly and often wrongly exercised.

The standing method of report by Indian agents has been to accept the Indian heads of Indian families as husband and wife and enumerate them as married, and many western tribes have formal ceremonies of instituting this relation; but among the Six Nations of New York marriage, separation, and divorce have no ascertainable ceremony except as performed by ministers of the gospel or the Indian judges or peacemakers. The pagan party expressly regard marriage by a minister as treason to their system and absolutely wicked. Some of them do not hesitate to say that they “put away their wives” even as Moses directed a Hebrew separation. The schedules of enumeration of the New York Indians have so generally followed the Indians’ own declaration, in the absence of ally other detailed proof, that the tables must necessarily be qualified. Thus, at Onondaga, a list wax furnished of more than 00 persons who sustained the relation of husband and wife without any ceremony whatever, and most of these had held the same relation to several parties without other law than choice for the change.

At Tonawanda the most careful inquiry of responsible Indians, who knew every family upon the reservation, revealed as a certainty only 26 legal marriages. At Allegany and Cattaraugus an accurate record was impossible. Divorces unless a struggle for property be involved, are rare in the peacemaker courts. The records of the peacemaker courts were examined. One trial, in all the proceedings, was without legal error. At Tuscarora there is no pagan organization and only one family called pagan, and yet there were those of whom no evidence of legal divorce before entering upon a, second marriage relation could be secured. That there are pagans who are thoroughly loyal to home ties is certain, but they will neither expose nor prosecute their derelict neighbors. The statutes of New York in this respect are practically inoperative, and those who openly deprecate the fact only make enemies.

As a matter of history, while a change of wife was permissible among the Iroquois, polygamy was ‘forbidden. In cage of family discord, it was the duty of the mothers of the couple, if possible, to secure peace. Marriage itself was a matter of arrangement and not of choice, and at an early period a simple ceremony, like the interchange of presents, consummated the agreement made between the parents. As the children always follow the tribe of the mother the nationality of offspring was never lost; hence it is that on every reservation there are families wholly different in nationality from the family head. The children of an Indian woman having a white husband have rights as Indians, but the children of a white woman having an Indian husband have no o tribal rights. The custody of the children is absolutely that of the mother, and upon her falls the burden of their support when deserted by the father. Neither civil nor canon law controls o the degrees of consanguinity among the Iroquois, so that the Indians in giving their lists often reported nephews and nieces as sons and daughters. As the purpose of the Iroquois system was to merge the collateral in the lineal line through a strictly female course the sisters of the maternal grandmother were equally grandmothers, the mother and her sisters were equally mothers, and the children of a mother’s sister were equally brothers and sisters. Thus, while under the civil law the degrees of relationship became lost through collaterals, the principle of the Iroquois system was to multiply the nearer family ties, and this shaped the basis of both their civil and their political systems.

The establishment of christian churches among the Indians involved a christian marriage ceremony, but this had restraining force with the Indian only as he became a christian at heart and conscientiously canceled every obligation and margin of license that marked the old system. A backsliding or relapsing Indian at once threw off at will his marriage obligation as a void act. During the recent religious interest on the Cattaraugus reservation the most difficult question to solve, when application was made for admission to the church, was how to dispose of Successive family relations previously sustained to several parties still living. There is at present no peacemaker court among the Onondagas, and the chiefs practically recognize the ‘pagan custom to be in force.

The Home

Among the Indians the home has as many varied phases as among the white people Comfort and want, cleanliness and dirt, good order and confusion, neatness and slovenliness furnish like contrasts. Neither extremes are more common than among white communities where a corresponding number of people are unable to read and write. On the maps which accompany this report every house, cabin, hovel, or shanty is noted, and the family schedules give the value of each dwelling and its household effects, ranging from totals of $25 to $2,500 and upward. The property tables in this report show a basis for comparing those of varied valuations with those of civilized society generally; showing that even the single room cabin, with scant blanket screens or those not divided at all, are more common among immigrants at the extreme west than among these Indians.

A grouping of the special schedules of Cattaraugus presents the following suggestive exhibit of the value of houses, independent of the value of lands, crops, and implements: houses of value of $25 and lees, 26; of value more than $25 and less than $100, 130; of value more than $100 and less than $300, 110; of value more than $300 and less than $500, 47; of value more than $500 and less than $1,000, 41; of value more than $1,000 and less than $2,000, 11; of value more than $2,000, 4; of value unknown, 11; total, 380.
Household effects present a still more significant idea as to modes and styles of living: household effects in value $25 or less, 59; in value more than $25 and less than $100, 217; in value more than $100 and less than 8300, 80; in value more than $300 and less than $500, 9; in value more than $500, 4; in value unknown, 11; total, 380.

The other reservations are in like condition, with perhaps a better class of household effects at Tuscarora. The usual furnishing of the home consists of a secondhand stove, plain bedsteads, tables, utensils, crockery, home made quilts, muslin curtains, a few cheap chairs or benches, and other absolute essentials. The comfort and appearance of the homes depend upon the pecuniary resources, taste, education, and religious associations of the occupants, and a comparison of an equal number of homes of the same grade at Tuscarora with those of any other reservation would show to the credit of the former. It is no reflection upon the equally kind entertainers among the pagan party to say that, with rare exceptions, the home reflects the political (Indian or christian) character of its inmates. The rule already applied to neighborhoods and roads is as conclusive here; but the refined home of one woman at Tuscarora affords no better example of home comfort than the 1-story 3-roomed house of another woman who attends as faithfully to her 150 chickens in the barnyard as she does to her household duties.

This report exacts definite ideas of the Indian condition in all its phases, and the data of special schedules can only be illustrated by reference to some homes of all grades, the better class as well as the most repulsive. The houses of prosperous Indians of Cattaraugus, with modern comforts and the best of good home living, contrast with the quaint slab shanty of an old Indian; yet the two little windows let in light, and the cabin is not absolutely filthy. In one cabin, somewhat larger, on the bluff overlooking Cherry Hollow, and said to be the “poorest affair on all the reservation”, a bedstead, stove, crockery, shelves, and a bench, which answered for seats or table, comprised the furniture. The bed was occupied by visitors, but on the bench, kicking their feet and playing together, were 5 Indian children, whose good shoes, neat clothing, and clean faces showed that somebody had carefully prepared them for this neighborly visit. A house in a ravine near the foot of Onondaga reservation is one of the poorest; but it can be called decent, on the frontier at least. A log house of 1 room furnished an interior view of very forbidding features, and yet, in its wilderness of articles of clothing, corn, potatoes, flour sacks, and old traps of half a century’s accumulation, it is the abode of au affectionate, son and a noble soul. Access to nearly a thousand homes, meeting with never failing politeness, however inquisitive or intrusive the interrogation might seem, among those speaking several different languages, and surprised in every phase of home or farm life, with only now and then a warning of the visit, furnished evidence that the good natured and simple welcome came from real kindness of heart. No apologies were made, as a general rule, for want of neatness or order, and, with the exception of one pig and occasionally a clog, no beast or fowl shared the home with the family With all the resultant disorder from want of closets, and with strings along the walls, instead of nails, to suspend everything that could be hung up, it is a very rare thing to find a place that can be called really filthy. There are such places, but continental life, as well as frontier life, has similar exhibitions to disgust a visitor.

Clothing

All the Six Nations Indians wear the same kind of clothing as the white people and “fix up ” for church, festivals, picnics, and holidays, indulging especially in good boots and shoes. At the green corn dance at Cold Spring, Allegany reservation, the majority of young men wore congress ties or gaiters. The head shawl is still common, but at more than 30 assemblies “store bonnets” or homemade imitations appeared. Sewing machines are much used.

The old women among the pagans still wear the beaded leggings, as the “pantalet” was worn by the white women and girls in New England some 50 years ago. A couple, of Cattaraugus, about 80 years of age, are representatives of the oldest pagan type. The woman, notwithstanding her -age, quickly finished a beautiful basket, hammered loose a sample bark from a soaked black ash limb for another lot of splints, put up her corn husk sieve, and afterward appeared in “full regalia,” as if about to act a chief part in a thanksgiving dance. A cape over her bright, clean, and stiffly starched calico dress bore closely united rows of silver brooches, 12 deep o on the back. From the throat to the bottom hem in front, similar silver brooches, mostly of eagles’ heads, in pairs, widened-out, until the bottom cross row numbered 10. Each brooch, well hammered out and punched through in somewhat artistic openings, had been made years ago from quarter and half dollar pieces and Canadian shillings, and was the representative of so much money, the cape being valued, with a front lapel, at $75. On the Tonawanda reservation, a Canadian Cayuga woman, 83 years old, who “had danced her last green corn dance,” reluctantly, and as if with some misgivings as to duty, parted with a pair of leggings which she had used on solemn occasions “for nearly 60 years”. The white beads, yellow from age, arranged in. bands and loops, were still in good order, and the cloth, although threadbare from age and use, was neither ragged nor torn.

Sick were found in many households. The patient sufferers from consumption, wherever found, left no heart for criticism; nor are the sympathies of the Six Nations Indians often withheld or coldly manifested toward those in sorrow. During 8 months of daily contact with families and individuals, never forbidden access to house or council hall, church or school, not an occasion was found for considering dress as immodestly worn or too scantily provided. Poor and often ragged and soiled clothing is the consequence of their “bunched” family living, their small quarters, and their infrequent use of water; but their attitude, deportment, dress, surroundings, and internal accommodations, or want of accommodations, do not relied the conditions which belong to the 44 hotbed of filth and vice”, as some have imagined. This conviction is not impressed upon the mind by enthusiastic missionaries, who, in their sympathy, see the signs of a swift regeneration of the ignorant Indian but by comparison with Indians of other tribes, with the lower orders of society in other countries, and by contact with white people in America.

The Parlor

More than one-third of the small houses have but 1 room each. And yet a log or “block house”, as many are called, is not of necessity a mere cabin, nor rude within. Some are 2 stories, and some have frame additions or framed upper story. In 30 2-storied houses, already erected or in progress, a special regard has been had for a company room, or parlor, which is often furnished with a carpet and sometimes with a musical instrument.

Among the Onondaga homes 10 organs and 1 piano were found, at Allegany the same number, and at Cattaraugus 10 organs and 1 melodeon, at Tonawanda 11 pianos and organs, at Tuscarora 8 pianos and organs, and at St. Regis 4 pianos and organs; in all, 56 musical instruments distributed among these Indian families. Several heads of families have small but well selected libraries, and many a parlor has its pictures and table albums. The Indian parlor is not a spare room, rarely used, but more often borrows heat from the kitchen stove, and is a place for talking when work is over.

The Kitchen

The Indian is not an early riser nor an epicure. The antecedents of the hunting period, which involved one substantial meal each day and long absences from home, with only dried meat or parched corn for lunch, still hold their place with those of the poorer class. Scarcity of fuel largely restricts its, use to the kitchen stove, as was the case not many years ago in New England, when meals were eaten where cooked, and the only other room having a fire was the familiar “family keeping room”. With the poorer Indian families, and especially among the older pagans, cracked corn, skinned corn hominy, corn bread, dried corn, succotash, beans, and squash are in common use. Old time tea of wild spice or the sassafras root is now supplanted by commercial tea and coffee. Pork is the principal meat, but chickens and eggs are plentiful. The old mortar, with its double-headed pounder, is still in use. The corn is first hulled by boiling in ashes, and water, then pounded to a powder, strained through basket sieves, and boiled or baked with dried currants to give it flavor, and is both palatable and nutritious. Three kinds of corn are raised by the Senecas, the red, the white, and the white flint, ripening progressively, so that their graded growing corn has the appearance of careless, instead of systematic planting. The red corn is esteemed most highly for hominy, the white for charring or roasting, and the white flint for flour. When stripped from the stalk the husks are braided and strung by twenties, and bung up for future use. Strings of corn are measured for about as many half bushels of shelled corn. Besides these primitive kinds of food one finds choice varieties of cake, as well as simple gingerbread, in many households for festive occasions, though, for the pagan dance, boiled hominy and beans, sometimes with pork, supply the meal. A few shelves often take the place of a pantry, where the plates are set on edge, as in earlier times among the white people. The kitchen is in. many cases all there is of the house, often uninviting enough, but always more than half civilized in its appointments, and generally with a sufficiency of food; but, whether well or poorly supplied, hospitality is gracious and hearty.

The St. Regis people are poor, but there is little destitution or suffering. The aged are treated with respect, and there is a national pride in their ancestry and history. Tenacity of old treaty rights, however unsuited to their present relations with the surrounding white people, is characteristic of nearly everybody, as if neither time nor conditions had changed.

The French element binds the St. Regis Indians closely to the observance of the Christian forms and ceremonies, so that legal marriage, baptism of children, and burial of the dead are well-recognized modes of procedure. The social life is informal, and the home life is quite regular, with an air of contented simplicity. All family obligations are well maintained, and the humble homes, the co-operative industry of the children, the rarity of separations, and the number of large households are in harmony.

Among the St. Regis Indians a marriage custom exists of having 3 successive suppers or entertainments after the ceremony. The first is at the house of the bride, the second at the house of the bridegroom, and the third at the residence of some convenient friend of both. A procession, bearing utensils, provisions, and all the accessories of a social party, is one of the features. Another custom observed among the St. Regis Indians bears resemblance to the “dead feast” among the pagans of the other nations, namely, that of night entertainments at the house of a deceased person until after the funeral, much like the “wake” which is almost universal among the white people in the vicinity of Hogansburg, and combines watching the dead body with both social entertainment and religious service.

The predominant thought during the enumeration of this people was that of one immense family, as, indeed, they consider themselves. This sentiment is strengthened by the fact that the invisible boundary which both Separates and unites 1,170 New York and 1,190 Canadian St. Regis Indians is practically a bond of sympathy, multiplying the social amenities or visits, and cheering their otherwise lonely and isolated lives. The River Indians also contribute their share in these interchanges of visits.

Temperance and Morals

A temperance society has been in active operation for 60 years.

The Tuscaroras and Onondagas have comfortable audience rooms, that of the latter, at Onondaga castle, being known as Temperance Hall, and occupied by Ko-ni-shi-o-ni Lodge No. 77, I. O. G. T.

No stranger on a casual visit to the Six Nations could avoid the conviction that the white men and women who skirt the reservations, wherever a convenient crossroad will assure easy temptation for the Indian to drink, are more deadly enemies of the red man than are all the pagan rites and dances on their calendar. No poverty, untidiness, or want of civilized comforts was so piteous as the silent appeals of this people for deliverance, and there is a persistent claim that only through outside legislation can saving relief come.

During the census year 3 fatal accidents on the railroad track near Tuscarora, 1 at Tonawanda, and 1 on the Allegany reservation were the result of this remorseless traffic of the white people.

The sweeping denunciation of the Allegany Indians as a nation of drunkards is unjustifiable. In proportion to numbers the visible signs are not greatly to their discredit.

There are intelligent Indians who know the habits and tendencies of every other Indian on the reservation. The clerk of the Indian Baptist Church explained the backsliding, of 5 church members to flow from the drinking habit, and others specifically went over the entire list of Indian names and defined the peculiarities of each in this respect. As compared with white people who daily exhibit this habit before the public the Indians who habitually drink to excess when they visit the town are not many in number. One argument in favor of giving citizenship to the Indian was repeatedly and seriously urged, that than “he could come boldly to the counter and get his drink under legal sanction”. The Indian rarely betrays his entertainer. Ingenious ruses, in form of packing or hiding plates for exchanging money for a bottle of spirits, often obscure the transaction. Public sentiment is pained by time presence of drunken Indians, but public sentiment aroused at last has not fully concluded that the religious, educational, and social atmosphere is polluted by the largo liberty, which the liquor traffic now enjoys.

On every reservation the demand is made, “Give us some protecting law”! Even the hiring of Indian labor is coupled with a partial equivalent in cider pay. One firmer thus states his own experience:

We have hard work to hire sometimes, unless we give them liquor. One year plenty of men passed my house, but wouldn’t hire. I got mad. Next year I put 6 barrels of hard cider in my house cellar, putting in enough strong whisky to keep it on edge, and when some men came along I got them. One day 2 lay drunk the whole afternoon. That did not pay. Then the children got hold of it. I couldn’t stand that, and have bought none since.

Irregular habits and employment on the farm or other labor expose the Indian to easy temptation, and the border dealers, who wholly depend upon Indian patronage for their own support, not only quickly absorb the pittance annuities but as promptly secure written orders, practical liens, upon the amounts due a year in advance.

The United States Indian agents have for 25 years made annual reports upon this destructive use of hard eider, but no action by the authorities follows. Not the least evil that results from the inability of state legislation to reach this wrong is the reaction against active temperance movements which had matured, greatly to the credit of the Indian, and were full of hope for the future.

On February 19, 1830, a temperance society was formed at Tuscarora, and had as its chief founders men of wisdom, piety, patriotism, and progress. On March 1, 1832, a general temperance society was formed at Cattaraugus. On the 27th of January 1833, the Tuscarora society was reorganized. At a grand reunion on the 19th of October 1876, the national society took on a new name, “The Six Nations Temperance Society of the United States and Canada”, which it still retains. Waves of blessing swept over the people of the Six Nations as this organization developed. Some of those who figured actively then have fallen back to paganism and some have renewed old habits, but the organization still survives.

The statistics which only concern vice and immorality in a sensual sense are not conclusive tests of Indian life and character; neither can public opinion be accepted, as a rule if the morals of the people of the Six Nations are to be solely judged by the difference between their marriage custom and that of the surrounding white people. The official census of the Six Nations must develop its facts as gathered directly from Indian homes, thus supplying an independent basis of judgment.

The history of the Six Nations is not that of a licentious people, for while the pursuits of war and the chase produced strong and athletic men, who looked with contempt upon the labor of tilling the soil, it is not true that the idle intervals spent in their villages or homes were given up to sensual pleasure. This has been the testimony of the most reliable writers upon the life of the Native American from the days of the first narrative of Captain John Smith to the present time. Even the young people of neighboring cabins in those days were not social in a society sense. Morgan has already been cited to show that even at their public dances the ceremonies, which were formal, were not immoral. Two historic facts have direct bearing upon the question: First, no race on the earth was more jealous of outside infringement upon the rights of the family circle than some Indian tribes. The exercise of authority at home might be harsh and the exacted service might be severe, but violators of that home could expect no mercy. Second, the hard physical service of the Women, coupled with a hereditary recognized responsibility for the transmission of the pure blood of their mothers to future generations, left neither time nor inclination for dalliance with impure surroundings. As a result of these two related facts, it can be truthfully asserted that, until the advent of the white man and his appliances of spirits and money, a prostitute woman, in the modern sense of that term, was as greatly abhorred by the Seneca Indians as a cowardly man; even more so, for thc coward was turned over to the women to share their drudgery, but an erring woman was held to have sacrificed the glory of her maternity and dishonored her people.

These facts had their bearing upon the development of the Six Nations when they began their companionship with the white people. The machinery of their social and political systems, as heretofore developed, had special regard for the purity of their line of descent and the limitation of all alliances, which could deteriorate the stock or impair the legitimate succession. Coupled with these fundamental laws of their social and political life is another fact, that, while a conquering band might adopt prisoners, the laws of the Iroquois were opposed to personal slavery, and even the penalty of defeat in resisting an invading force was not the surrender of the female prisoners to the victor’s lust. The more thoroughly the history of such alleged practices is examined the more vague becomes the evidence of their use.

Through every phase of his life the Indian is shown to possess qualities, which have sterling social value and. strong bearing upward instead of downward in the social scale; hence, in increasing numbers, in longevity, and in gradual acquisition of property, he is holding his own with his neighbors in proportion to his advantages.

Inquiry was diligently made respecting the number of recognized immoral characters living on the respective reservations. These inquiries were made. with the population list in mind, and always of different persons. There was almost an invariable concurrence of testimony, specifying how many and who openly violated the laws of Chastity. The largest estimate for any reservation was less than 20; at some reservations not even 6 could be named. The inferior and sometimes corrupt men who have almost invariably held judicial positions long kept in the background many who desired justice. Nine marriages at Cattaraugus and 6 at Tonawanda during the census year, with additions to the churches only after rigid examination into the antecedents of the parties, have done much to quicken the progressive party. The moral tone is low, but residence in the small cabin, or even in the single room cabin, elsewhere sufficiently described, is not the prime source of the evil. It is when different families come into improper associations, as in crowded tenement houses, that all natural restraint is lost; and the people of the Six Nations, with all their unhappy surrounding so and poverty, in this matter have suffered opprobrium beyond their true desert in the judgment of Christian America.

At the Onondaga reservation, where there is no semblance of a court and no regular method of approach to any organized and certain source of relief the moral plane is below that of the other reservations. The condition is deplorable. Jealousies, local, antagonisms, and the rapidly ripening struggle for an advance, even here, lead both parties into much injustice, and the statements of neither were accepted as fully, reliable; but the sweeping charges so often promulgated have neither truth nor christian grace to qualify the wrong they do.
The New York Indians are not more given to betting on games than the white people. Debased by early associations with white people, without the restraints of education or religion, they are an example of a demoralization from without rather than from within. A day among them and their immediate surroundings, a Sabbath day in August 1890, presented facts bearing upon this statement. The Indian Presbyterian Church at Tonawanda, adjoining Akron, had a morning service and Sabbath school, the exercises in all respects befitting the day and occasion; while nearly a mile westward, at the new council house, 65 young men of the pagan party were playing the javelin game and getting ready for an evening pagan ceremony. Near a house, southward, about 20 pagan women were boiling supper for the coming entertainment. Still farther south, in vie from the front steps of 2 christian churches, about 130 white men and boys were racing horses on a regular track or looking on, and the barrooms of the village were open; but the Indians were present at neither. These pagan sports were taking place between the Indians and the white man’s center of Christian effort. The fact bears upon the condition of the Six Nations during the census year.

With the St. Regis Indians quarrels are rare. When once disarmed of suspicion, their hospitality is generous for their means, and rudeness or discourtesy has no natural, place in their intercourse with visitors and strangers.

Ignorance is the key to much of their passivity, and the safeguards which religious forms have placed about their homes lack, intelligent application to there outside relations, since they use the English language so little.

The temptation to use has had its effect here as ou the other reservations and aside from the church influence, there is little formal effort at temperance work. Intemperance is not general, but, as at Cattaraugus, it is often found among the men who have the greatest capacity for good.

Immorality among the St. Regis Indians, other than intemperance, is also rare. The statistics of the family relation show that constitutional diseases have not destroyed their vigor, nor have they become debased through immoral practices. However humble the home, it commends its loyalty to the respectful consideration of the white citizens of the United States. There are men upon each reservation who honor and illustrate the virtues anti capacities of true manhood, and women who .are conspicuous for their domestic life, purity of character, and Christian grace.



MLA Source Citation:

Department of the Interior. Report on Indians Taxed and Indians not Taxed in the United States, Except Alaska at the Eleventh Census: 1890. Washington DC: Government Printing Office. 1894. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 28 July 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/native/industry-and-home-life-on-the-reservations.htm - Last updated on Aug 30th, 2013


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