The St. Regis Indians are the successors of the ancient Mohawks, and reside on their reservation in Franklin and St. Lawrence counties, New York, which is 7.3 miles long upon the south line and about 3 miles wide, except where purchases made by the state of New York in 1824 and.1825, as indicated on the map, modify the shape. The original tract was estimated as the equivalent of 6 miles square, or 23,040 acres, and the present acreage, computed by official reports without survey, is given as 14,640 acres.
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Four main roads diverge from the village of Hogansburg, and these are fairly well maintained. Nearly all local roads are poor and little more than trails. The country is practically level, and, in the winter teams move almost at random anywhere over the snow or ice. In the summer boats are in general use and the products of Indian industry find a ready market. The St. Regis river is navigable to the point indicated on the map and communication is maintained with towns on both sides of the national boundary several times a week. At Messena, 12 miles westward, at Helena, 6 miles southwest, and at Fort Covington, 9 miles eastward, are railroad connections with mail facilities 6 days in the week.
Nearly the entire tract is tillable, and the greater portion has exceptional fertility. The land is slightly rolling, but nowhere hilly. The supply of water is ample, and in portions of the reservation, where swamps or bog prevent tillage, drainage will be necessary before efficient farming can be done. A large tract of this character, containing fully 1,000 acres, extends beyond the boundary line, and complaint has been made by farmers on both sides that the feeder dam of the Beauharnois canal holds back water, so as to reduce even the natural drainage to its minimum. Timber has already become scarce for fuel or fencing, and only occasional clumps of small pines represent the former dense forests along the rivers. The cultivated lands have been quite generally fenced with small poles, but the annual spring repairs only supplement about as much of necessary fencing as is quite generally and conveniently used for fuel during the winter.
The national boundary line established by the treaty of Washington about equally divides the population of the St. Regis Nation. The house, known as the “International hotel”, is bisected diagonally by this boundary line. It also cuts off one of the rooms of the house opposite.
The St. Regis Indians
The St. Regis Indians formed part of the Seven Nations of Canada. In 1852 they numbered 1,100, or nearly the present number of the St. Regis Indians in the United States. By a provision of the first constitution of New York, adopted April 26, 1777, no purchases or contracts for the sale of lands by the Indians since the 14th day of October, 1775, were to be valid unless made with the consent of the legislature. Among the documents in the possession of the nation at the present time none are more prized than the treaty made May 4, 1797, exemplified, signed, and sealed by John Jay, governor, February 28, 1800. Three of the most noted parties to that treaty, namely, Te-liar-ag-wan-e-gan (Thomas Williams), A-tia-to-ha-ron-gwam (Colonel Louis Cook), and William Gray, who was made captive in his boyhood and adopted by the Indians, are still represented among the families enumerated upon schedules. Thomas Williams was third in descent from Rev. Thomas Williams, of Deerfield, Massachusetts. Louis Cook was captured with his parents, his father being a colored man, at Saratoga, in 1775. He raised and commanded a regiment on the colonial side. Spark’s Life of Washington and American State Papers are generous in their recognition of the services of Cook and the St. Regis Indians at that period, and the history of the War of 1812 is equally creditable to their loyalty to the United States.
By an act of the legislature passed March 26, 1802, William Gray, Louis Cook, and Loren Tarbell, chiefs, were also appointed trustees on behalf of the St. Regis Indians to lease the ferry over the St. Regis River, with authority to apply the rents and profits for the support of a school and such other purposes as such trustees should judge most conducive to the interests of said tribe. The same act provided for future annual elections of similar trustees by a majority of adults of the age of 21 years, at a town meeting, on the first Tuesday of each May thereafter. This system is still in force.
The powers, functions, and responsibilities of these trustees are hardly more than nominal in practical effect. The peculiar credit, which the Six Nations attach to all preserved treaties, however old or superseded, developed during the census year a new departure in the St. Regis plan of self-government. The old or pagan element among the Onondagas maintained that their rights to lands in Kansas and similar rights rested upon treaties made between the Six Nations (exactly six) and the United States, and at a general council, held in 1888, the St. Regis Indians were formally recognized as the successors of the Mohawks, thus restoring the original five, while, with the Tuscaroras, maintaining six. The theory was that an apparent lapse from the six in number would in some way work to their prejudice. The same element at once proposed the revival of the old government by chiefs, which had become obsolete among the St. Regis Indians. A meeting was held, even among the Cattaraugus Senecas, with the deliberate purpose to ignore or abandon their civilized, legal organization as the Seneca Nation and return to former systems. The impracticability of such a retrograde movement did not silence the advocates of chief ship for the St. Regis Indians. The election through families, after the old method, of 9 chiefs and 9 alternate or vice chiefs was held, and these were duly installed in. office by a general council, representing all the other nations. Practically and legally they have no power whatever. Two of them are still trustees under the law of 1802.
By tacit understanding the Indians avail themselves of the New York courts in issues of law or fact so far as applicable, and submit their conduct to ordinary legal process and civil supervision, so that they have, in fact, no organic institution that antagonizes civilized methods. The distinctions by tribe or clan have almost disappeared, those of the Wolf, Turtle, Bear, and Plover only remaining. Thomas Ramsom, the third trustee, retains in his possession the old treaties and other national archives, while the people, ignorant of the reasons for any change, vibrate between the support of the two systems, neither of which has much real value. The small rentals of land are of little importance in the administration of affairs, and the more intelligent of the prosperous Indians distinctly understand that the elected chiefs have no special authority until recognized by the state of New York as legal successors of the trustees. Either system is that of a consulting, supervising, representative committee of the St. Regis Indians, and little more.
The following is a list of the chiefs in 1890:
Peter Tarbell (Ta-ra-ke-te, Hat-rim, or Neck-protection), great grandson of Peter Tarbell, the eldest of the Groton captives; Joseph Wood (So-se-sa-ro-ne-sa-re-ken, Snow Crust), Heron chin; Peter Herring (Te-ra-non-ra-no-ron-san, Deerhouse), Turtle clan; Alexander Solomon (A-rek-sis-o-ri-hon-ni, He is to Blame), Turtle clan; Angus White, chief and clerk (En-ni-as-ni-ka-un-ta,-a, Small Sticks of Wood), Snipe clan; Charles White (Sa-ro-tha-ne-wa-ne-ken, Two Hide Together), Wolf clan; also Joseph Bero, John White, and Frank Terance, Alternate or vice chiefs are Joseph Cook, Mathew Benedict, Paid Swamp, John B. Tarbell, Philip Wood, and Alexander Jacob (2 vacancies).
There is a pending question among the St, Regis Indians, which may require settlement by both the state and federal governments, respecting their intercourse with their Canadian brethren. Even the census enumeration is affected by its issues. The early treaties, which disregarded the artificial line of separation of these Indians and allowed them free transit over the line with their effects, are confronted by a modern customs regulation, which often works hardships and needless expense. The contingency of their purchasing horses beyond the line and introducing them for personal use, while really intending to sell them at a profit greater than the duty, is not to be ignored; but such cases must be rare, and the peculiarly located families near the line, who worship together, farm together, and live as people do in the adjoining wards of a city, seem to call for a special adjustment to the facts.
Meanwhile the development of the basket industry, and the ready market at Hogansburg, where a single resident firm bought during the year, as their books show, in excess of $20,000 worth, have attracted the Canadian St. Regis Indians across the line, so that the schedules indicate the term of residence of quite a number as less than a year in the United States. Their right to buy land of the St. Regis Indians in New York and erect buildings has been discussed, and the question as to trustees or chiefs as their advisory ruling authority has had this political element as one of the factors. Clerk Angus White furnished a list of those whom he declared to be Canadians proper, drawing Canadian annuities, and on the United States side of the line only to have the benefit of its market for profitable basketwork. The loose holding or tenure of land among the St. Regis Indians makes them jealous of extending privileges beyond the immediate circles, At the same time indispensable daily intimacies prevent the establishment of any arbitrary law of action in the premises. Petitions have been sent to the New York legislature demanding that the Canadians be terribly put across the line. A wise commission could adjust the matter equitably without injustice to any or bad feeling between the adjoining families of the same people. Some who are denounced by one party as Canadians have reared children on the United States side of the line and call it their home. The trustees or chiefs, or both, are continually at work to have stricken from the New York annuity list all whose mixture of white blood on-the female side is decided.
All such questions as those involved in this controversy can only find permanent solution through some ultimate appeal to state or federal authority for distinct and binding settlement.
As a general rule, the state agent is able to adjust the distribution of the state annuity without friction. The St. Regis Indians slowly advance toward a matured citizenship.
St. Regis Reservation Occupants in 1890
We have carefully copied the names listed on the map in hopes it will provide a better record but also help you in your search for ancestors.
Section A – Green
Thos St Denis
John Hops Widow
Peter Cloud 2nd
School No. 3
John Cooketer LaFrance
Peter La France
School No. 1
St. Regis Parish (Part in section)
Section B – Red
S. C. Grow
Hogansburg (town of)
St. Regis Parish (Part in section)
John Ransom Jr.
School No. 4
District No. 2
T. W. Babian
School No. 3
Section C – Blue
John Sawyer Jr.
Widow Jos. Gareau
Jas. Hill or Tarbell
School No. 5
Phil Big Tree
R. C. Church