Red Jacket (1758-1830)
The Seneca chief and orator, also known as Sagoyewatha, Red Jacket was born at Canoga (on Cayuga Lake in western New York) as member of the Seneca Wolf clan. He enters historical record around the time of the American Revolution when he is said to have habitually worn a red coat provided him by the British, who employed him as a messenger. Thus the origin of his English name, Red Jacket.
When the War of 1812 broke out, Red Jacket, like many Seneca, became an ally of the United States, fighting bravely at the battles of Fort George (17 Aug. 1813) and Chippawa (5 July 1814). At the latter, heavy casualties suffered by both the New York Seneca and the Iroquois of Upper Canada led both to reconsider their participation in a non-Indian war. Red Jacket played a leading role in the decision of both to withdraw from the Canadian-American conflict.
In his later years Red Jacket described himself at that time as "an aged tree"--"My leaves are fallen, my branches withered, and I am shaken by every breeze." He died of cholera on the Buffalo Creek Reservation. His remains were later removed to the Forest Lawn cemetery in Buffalo.
Cornplanter (Kaiiontwa'kon, "By What One Plants") was born at Canawagus on the Genesee River in present-day New York State around 1740. His father was an Albany trader named John Abeel or O'Bail, and Cornplanter was known to the English as John O'Bail or Captain O'Bail. His half-brother Handsome Lake was an Iroquois Confederacy chief, as was a nephew who was known as Blacksnake or Governor Blacksnake. He was living on this "Cornplanter Grant" in June of 1799 when his half brother Handsome Lake, who was living in the same house, arose from a coma and announced he had experienced a vision. The two men continued to live there until 1803 when a dispute with Handsome Lake sent the latter to Coldspring on the Allegany Reservation, where he embarked on his lifelong mission to revive the ancient ways and values while adapting to the new world of the reservation. Cornplanter continued to live on his Pennsylvania grant for the rest of his life.Cornplanter died on February 18, 1836, and was buried at the Cornplanter Grant. In 1964 the cemetery where he was buried was moved to higher ground to make way for the reservoir that would be created by construction of the nearby Kinzua Dam.
Destroy Town (Onondakai) was a Seneca chief who signed the treaty of 1826. His name is also given as Gonondagie, and formally as Oshagonondagie.
'He Destroys the Town,' written "Straw Town" in the treaty of 1815, Oosaukaunendauki in 1797. He was one of those whose remains were re-interred at Buffalo in 1884. The name was a favorite one, but, as applied to George Washington and some French governors, has a slightly different form.
Handsome Lake (1735-1815)
Handsome Lake (Sganyadai:yo) was born in 1735 at the village of Ganawagrahs, in present-day New York State. Born into the Wolf clan, he was later adopted by the Turtle clan. Relatively little is known of his earlier life. In July 1777, he and his half brother Cornplanter attended a Great War council of the Iroquois Confederacy with the British at Oswego. Though the brothers initially argued for Seneca neutrality, they later fought alongside the British forces against the revolutionaries. In 1780 Cornplanter and his followers moved to the Allegheny Valley; for the next decade, he traveled extensively among his people, counseling peace with the thirteen states, and went to Albany and Philadelphia to meet with the new state and federal governments.
Also known as Governor Blacksnake (Thaonawyuthe), Blacksnake was a man of rare intellectual and moral power. His home was on the Allegany River.
He was a chief who fought with the British at the Battle of Oriskany during the Revolutionary War in 1777. During the War of 1812, he fought on the side of the United States against the English at the Battle of Fort George.
Ely Parker (1828-1895)
Born into a leading Seneca family and steeped in the history and lore of the Iroquois Confederacy, Ely Samuel Parker was also educated in the white world in which he finally chose to live. His father, William Parker, a Tonawanda Seneca chief, fought for the States in the war of 1812 against the British. His mother was a granddaughter of "Sos-he-o-wa," the successor of Handsome Lake. Five sons and one daughter were born to them. At the outbreak of the Civil War, Ely tried to enlist as an engineer, but was told by Secretary of War, William H. Seward that it was a "white man's war." However later, he was given a commission in the Union Army and was discharged a Brigadier General. He was an aide to General Ulysses S Grant, and it was Ely Parker in 1865 who wrote the terms of surrender Grant offered General Robert E. Lee at Appomattox Courthouse. When Grant became president, he appointed Parker Commissioner of Indian Affairs, making him the first Indian to hold that office. He died on August 31, 1895 and on January 20, 1897 his remains were buried in Buffalo's Forest Lawn Cemetery in the Red Jacket plot.
Lewis Bennett (Deerfoot) (1828-1897)
A member of the Snipe Clan of the Seneca Indians, Lewis Bennett showed extraordinary capacities as a long-distance runner in his youth. In fact, on the Cattaraugus Reservation in New York State, where he perfected his skills under his nation's traditional system of physical training, his speed and endurance gave rise to the legend that a horse had died of exhaustion after being outpaced by him for some thirty or forty miles. By the mid-1850s, Bennett was running professionally, and in 1861 he went to England to compete with the best runners in the British Isles. He lost his first contest there, but was soon winning on a regular basis and finding himself lionized in sporting circles. In the spring of 1863, his times for ten-to twelve-mile runs set new records that lasted well into the twentieth century. This photograph was taken in England at the height of Bennetts' fame there. As this picture indicates, Bennett reveled in reminding his English fans of his Indian origins, and he ran his races clad in wolf skin and a feathered headband. He is buried in Forest Lawn Cemetery, Buffalo, NY next to the grave of the Seneca orator Red Jacket. For generations, Native Americans have taken pride in running and in being fleet of feet. The Song of Hiawatha, attributed to the 19th century American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, described these traits:
Out of childhood into manhood,
Now had grown my Hiawatha,
Skilled in the craft of hunters,
Learned in all the lore of old men.
In all youthful sports and pastimes,
In all manly arts and labors,
Swift of foot was Hiawatha.
He could shoot an arrow from him,
And run forward with such fleetness,
That the arrow fell behind him.