Annuities of the Six Nations Reservations
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The Six Nations, with the exception of the St, Regis Indians, who receive no annuities from the United States, draw from the United States and from the state of New York annuities on the basis of past treaties, which secured this fixed income on account of lands sold from time to time, and rights surrendered. This payment is:
The annuities themselves bring small returns in visible benefits. The payments by the United States, which are theoretically paid in the early autumn, for the census year, were not completed until February 1891, through delay of the appropriation by Congress.
The various payments during the census year were so similar that reference to one of each, viz, of money at Cattaraugus and goods at Onondaga, will indicate the methods and incidents of all similar payments.
After due notice, the importunate inquiry, extending over months, “When is our annuity money coming”? had its solution. The courthouse of the Seneca Nation was crowded with men, women, and children of all ages and conditions. Robert Silverheels, a veteran of the war of 1812, past 90 years of age, and entirely dependent upon the charity of his people, emerged from his little cabin to receive his welcome share. Solomon O’Bail, grandson of the great Cornplanter, and rapidly reaching his fourscore years, was there. Blind John Joe, already in his ninth decade, and John Jacket, the tall, bright, and clear headed representative of the illustrious Red Jacket, awaited their turn. Joseph Hemlock and wife, each just 80, were there; also Abigail Bennett, at the age of 92, and Mary Snow, but little younger.
The poor, the sick, the wasted, and the cripples came together as at no other time. It was a clamp day, yet not cold; but the echoes of many a cough told how surely the dread consumption still retained its grasp. In contrast with the wrinkled and weary faces which eagerly watched the pay table, more than 100 little Indians, from the age of a few weeks upward, were borne, well wrapped, for an additional amount, payable to the family which owned them, for every new child is a recipient, the allowance dating before its birth as well as a year after its death, so that during the autumn enumeration there sounded the careful injunction from 5 humble homes: ” Write Agent Jackson we’ve got a new baby. Tell him to mark it down”!
The official interpreter called the roll. Some responded with a rush; others edged slowly through the crowd at the doors, either extreme calling forth a humorous hit, an out voiced, laugh, or some side remark, all in good humor; but there were those who were hardly able to be present at all, and they silently approached the table, hid away their little treasure, and disappeared.
Those who could write signed the voucher sheet and those who could not made their cross. But there was a second pay table where the Indian man and woman sometimes left the entire sum received from the agent. It was the table of the merchants, from as far away as Steamburg and Red House, who gave up the orders for goods which had been discounted the year before. This stream also flowed steadily and cheerfully, without higgling or contest, and the payment was spontaneous, the silent testimony to the honesty of hundreds, who needed the money for approaching winter. But one dispute arose, where an over lined item exceeding the amount named in the order was questioned. When payment was complete a pen was handy, also a new order book in blank, and then was executed in favor of the applicant another assignment in way of trade, but discounting the annuity of 1891.
There were solid men and sensible women who secured their money and went straight back to work or home, and there were many on the court house square who settled fraternal debts. For 2 or 3 days also the hard cider dens at Lawton station and the “Four mile road” replenished their tills, and then the annuity had melted away. Decorum, good order, and cheerfulness had no interruption.
The agent of the United States for the Six Nations and the New York superintendent of the St. Regis Indians pay the same gross sum annually whatever the number, dividing accordingly. A scourge of disease would increase either of these distributive payments to each person without reduction of the aggregate; hence, the care taken by the Indians to report births and deaths.
The distribution of the annual quota of goods due from the United States to the Onondagas, closing the series Of issues for the year 1890, took place at the council house on the public green at 1 o’clock p. m., February 5, 1891. Congress had postponed this distribution of cotton goods, greatly to the discomfort of the recipients.
The distribution at Onondaga is a fair representation of similar scenes at the other reservations. Upon due notice by the United States Indian, agent of the day of his arrival, word was quickly circulated, and at midday men of all ages, and women bearing their children with them, assembled rapidly. They came by the roads and across fields by the most direct routes, and with the utmost propriety seated themselves upon the benches ranged against the walls in The council house, the women occupying one end of the building and the men the other. Very little conversation took place, and the quiet was that of a Quaker meeting. In the center lay the bales of muslin, and one of the headmen stood, knife in hand, ready to open them at proper announcement. Meanwhile the agent and his clerk prepared receipts for signature, and at 1 o’clock the president of the Onondagas announced the hour for distribution. Several chiefs were summoned to the table to sign the receipts on behalf of the people. These were attested by the clerk and a second white, man, and the distribution began. With a rapid dash of hands alternately through the folds of muslin, swift as a weaver’s shuttle, there were told off to the Oneidas 11 and to the Onondagas 9 yards. A touch of the knife and a sharp, crisp tear told off one share, which was quickly passed to the expectant owner. Now and then the representative of a large family would be half buried under the accumulating load, and good-natured laughter would disturb the silence. With here and there a. bonnet, the greater ‘number of the women sat with heads wrapped in bright shawls, nearly one-half holding children, and as quickly as a share was fully Made up the contented owner quietly started homeward with the burden. The same. IV RS true of the men. Perfect decorum prevailed and all had contented faces. The distribution lasted until nearly 5 o’clock, and not a rude word, an impatient gesture, or a wry face disturbed the good order and genial feeling. At one time 80 people occupied each end’ of the hall, all neatly and modestly dressed.
The very names contrasted with those of other reservations, Webster, Hill, Thomas, Brown, Jones, Jacobs, and Lyons being English. John Adams, of the war of 1812, Abram Hill, the honored Oneida chief, and Chief Theodore Webster, keeper of the wampum, bore their years with dignity, and were among the most interested of those present.
During the 4 hours occupied in the distribution, although both men and women use tobacco freely, no pipes were lighted, and the floor remained unsoiled to the end.
The annuities, in money and goods, are as follows:
The Senecas receive annually from the United States $16,250 in money and $500 from the state of New York. The Onondagas receive from the state of New York $2,430. The Cayugas, living among the other nations, receive from the state of New York $2,300. The St. Regis Indians receive from the state of New York $2,130.67. They do not receive any annuity goods from the United States. The Six Nations also receive from the United States annually the value of $3,500 in goods. The Tuscaroras and Oneidas receive no money annuities.