Red Jacket - Table of Contents......................Mark Goldman -Table of Contents

Red Jacket
Sagoyewatha (He Keeps Them Awake)
TEXT (below illustrations)



Click on illustrations for larger size and additional information

Sagoyewatha (He Keeps Them Awake)

Red Jacket addressing the Iroquois.

Cabin of Red Jacket

Red Jacket's medal. Silver. C. 1792

Red Jacket Monument at Forest Lawn Cemetery

Seneca Mission

Terra cotta decoration on Red Jacket Apartments which were named after him

Painting by Hal Sherman received recognition in 2008 by the State Department

Robert Morris
Original owner of Holland Land Grant



The text below is an excerpt from
Mark Goldman, "High Hopes: The Rise and Decline of Buffalo, New York." Pub. by State U. of New York Press, Albany, 1983

The Senecas had been on the defensive since the Revolution when, as allies of the British, they were slaughtered and banished from their ancestral home in the Genesee Valley by the brutality of General Sullivan's scorched-earth tactics. Seeking refuge from the Revolutionary War armies, the Senecas moved westward to the safety of the British forts along the Niagara River. By the conclusion of the war, approximately two thousand Senecas had migrated westward to Fort Niagara on Lake Ontario, and then southward through what would become the city of Buffalo, to their final resting place along the banks of Buffalo Creek. It was not until 1794, however, that this was to become a reservation and, like so many developments in Indian history, this one occurred without the participation of the Senecas, as a result of land-grabbing white settlers.

Robert Morris and the Holland Land Company

In 1791 Robert Morris, fresh from his widely heralded triumphs as the finance commissioner of the revolutionary government, bought four million acres of land lying between the Genesee and Niagara Rivers in Western New York from the state of Massachusetts. Immediately thereafter, he sold the land to a private Dutch syndicate known as the Holland Land Company. Because this was a foreign company not permitted to own land in the state, a dummy holding corporation was created until 1798, when the state of New York changed the law to accommodate the Dutch land speculators. But because there were extensive Indian claims on the land, the Holland Land Company refused to turn over a large percentage of the $4 million purchase price until Morris canceled Indian claims on the land.

Despite Morris's eagerness to resolve this issue (Morris was facing critical financial difficulties as a result of land deals in the new District of Columbia and indeed later was confined to debtors' prison in Philadelphia between 1798 and 1801), the Senecas, under the leadership of their "sachem" Red Jacket, were in no rush (the Senecas were led by a number of civilian leaders called sachems and military leaders called chiefs). Finally, in 1797 Thomas Morris, representing his father, succeeded in convening a council at Geneseo, New York, in an effort to convince the Senecas to sell him their land. (Remember that the deal with the Holland Company was contingent upon the Seneca sale to Morris. Had the Senecas known about Morris' desperate financial circumstances, they may well have held out for a better arrangement.)

Red Jacket loses to whites

At any rate, Red Jacket led the resistance to the treaty, and after fourteen days of fruitless discussions, the council broke down and Red Jacket, in the richly metaphoric language of the Seneca, "covered up the council fire." Morris was desperate.

Realizing the seriousness of his father's precarious financial situation, Thomas Morris, with the aid of several Seneca chiefs opposed to Red Jacket's tactics, tried a new strategy. Morris was told by one of the disgruntled chiefs that while the sachems had the power as civil magistrates to negotiate treaties, in matters referring to the sale of land, Seneca women and warriors could impose themselves over and above the sachems. Thus informed, Morris began caucusing with the Seneca women, bribing them with promises of beads, silver brooches, and clothes if and when the treaty was concluded. The chiefs, already angered by sachem rule, did not need to be bribed and within a few days the council reopened. In the interim Red Jacket had withdrawn and Cornplanter, the principal war chief, opened the proceedings. The bargain was struck, Indian titles on the Holland purchase were extinguished and the Senecas were left with $10,000 and five reservations on the Niagara Frontier.

A local chronicler wrote in disbelief in 1923:

It seems incredible that Morris should have been able to get such relinquishment of valuable land at less than a third of a cent an acre, especially in view of the fact that the completion of the transaction meant that the Indians could no longer live by the chase, having no hunting grounds and must thereafter be dependent upon the white man's benevolence.

While clearly difficult to comprehend, the reasons for this pathetic giveaway should be understandable. Not only did Morris effectively exploit divisiveness within the tribe, but also it is clear that the Seneca's had little understanding of the value of money. Indeed, their experience with treaties in general was very limited. With the exception of a treaty in 1784, the Senecas had never made a land agreement. But most compelling of all was the clear sense of the futility of resistance.

Despite this, Red Jacket had opposed the treaty, as he continued to oppose all future agreements with the growing number of white settlers who made their way onto the Niagara Frontier following the conclusion of the Holland purchase. The reservation that the Senecas were confined to at the beginning of the nineteenth century was large (approximately 130 square miles) but, despite their receipt of annual annuities from the federal government, poor. Writing to his superiors in the War Department in 1817, Buffalo Indian Agent Erastus Granger reported:

The situation of the Indians is truly deplorable. They have exerted themselves for the year past in trying to raise crops but have failed in their expectations. Their prospects have failed. Their hunting grounds are gone. They have availed themselves of their money arising from their public funds but they fall short. They are in fact in a state of starvation.

As wards of the Federal government, unable to hunt, unable to grow crops, and confined to the reservation by fear and prejudice, they spent their pitiable federal funds on liquor .

Red Jacket opposes Christians

Meanwhile, the Senecas had become the target of missionary activity. While Quaker missionaries had been only intermittent on the Reservation in the mid-1790's, the Baptist mission established in 1800 lasted with but one interruption until 1836. Its presence on the reservation provoked bitter division within the Seneca community. From the very beginning the tribe was split between Christian and pagan factions.

Opposed equally as much to Christianity as he was to questionable land deals with the whites, Red Jacket, in his mid-fifties during the War of 1812, was the leader of the pagan faction throughout the first three decades of the century. In countless speeches throughout this period, the Seneca sachem railed against the "Black Coats" who, he said, were simply advance agents for the land speculators. He despised Christianity and any attempt to convert his people. By the end of the teens he had, in the words of a late nineteenth century biographer, "become utterly averse to any further intercourse or association with the whites, having arrived at the conclusion that the only means of preserving his race . . .was by creating a wall of separation, strong and high between them."

Red Jacket opposed not only Christianity but also the establishment and extension onto the reservation of white-run schools and of the laws of the white man. In 1821 a Seneca woman was found guilty of sorcery and, in conformity with Seneca tradition, was sentenced to death. When the chosen executioner hesitated in his duty, a young Seneca named Tommy Jemmy seized a knife and killed the sorcerer. Jemmy was seized by white authorities, indicted, and tried for murder. Jemmy, with Red Jacket as his counsel, argued that the Senecas constituted a separate community and therefore were subject to their own laws. In a witty, sarcastic speech, Red Jacket pleaded the cause of Tommy Jemmy:

Do you denounce us as fools and bigots because we still believe that which you yourselves believed two centuries ago? Your black coats thundered this doctrine from the pulpit, your judges denounced it from the bench, and sanctioned it with the formalities of law; and you would not punish our unfortunate brother for adhering to the faith of his fathers and of yours? Go to Salem! Look at the records of your own government and you will find that hundreds have been executed for the very crime which has called forth the sentence of condemnation against this woman and drawn upon her the arm of vengeance. What have our brothers done more than the rules of your people have done?

Although Jemmy was vindicated by a higher court, Red Jacket's vehement opposition to the white man's ways did not end. Indeed, his feelings had grown so strong that in 1820 or 1821 he petitioned Governor Clinton for the removal of white missionaries and teachers from the Buffalo Creek reservation:

The Governor must not think hard of me for speaking thus of the preachers. I have observed their progress and when I look back to see what has taken place of old, I perceive that whenever they came among the Indians, they were the forerunners of their dispersion; that they always excited enmities and quarrels among them; that they introduced the white people on their lands, by whom they are robbed and plundered of their property; and that the Indians were sure to dwindle and decrease and be driven back, in proportion to the number of preachers that came among them. Each nation has its own customs and its own religion. The Indians have theirs - given to them by the Great Spirit - under which they were happy. It was not intended that they should embrace the religion of the whites and be destroyed by the attempt to make them think differently on that subject from their fathers.

Governor Clinton, whose pet project, the Erie Canal, did more to increase the size of the white population on the Niagara Frontier than any other development, was sympathetic. At his urging the state legislature passed a law which forced the removal of "all persons other than Indians" from the Seneca lands. The Seneca mission closed and the missionaries and teachers retired to Buffalo.

Whites covet Buffalo Creek reservation

This was only a temporary victory, however, for the pressure of the land dealers and the expanding white population in Buffalo was too much for the Seneca reservation to resist. Ever since the end of the War of 1812 a land company called the Ogden Company had had its eyes on the Buffalo Creek reservation. In fact, as recently as 1819 Ogden land agents had come close to negotiating a deal with the Senecas that would have exchanged all of their lands in New York State for some cash and a new home in Green Bay in the Wisconsin Territory. This treaty, negotiated by Christian factions among the Senecas who were disposed to accommodating the land developers, was vetoed by the last-minute intervention of Red Jacket. Lest Red Jacket assume far too heroic proportions, it is best if the records speak for him. Indian Agent Granger, representing the government at the council, wrote:

At the meeting Red Jacket, on behalf of the Senecas, rejected the proposition to remove or contract the limits or dispose of any part of their lands. The rejection was so unqualified and so preemptory as to forbid all reasonable expectation that any good purpose would be effected by continuing the council.

Although defeated in 1819, the Ogden Company persisted. During the early 1820s they continued their overtures to the more pliable elements among the Senecas and by 1826 felt confident enough to call another council in an effort to purchase for once and for always the lands on the Buffalo Creek reservation. This time, notwithstanding the continuing efforts of Red Jacket, Ogden was successful and the Senecas agreed to sell eighty-one thousand acres of land including all of the Tonawanda, Allegheny and Buffalo Creek reservations. In exchange they received fifty-three cents per acre and a promise from the federal government that land in the Green Bay area of Wisconsin would be theirs in perpetuity.

Unable to convince his own people, Red Jacket tried to persuade President John Quincy Adams to delay the treaty. Although Adams had originally approved it, Red Jacket's request forced him to seek further explanations. With the deal now held up, the Ogden Company, frustrated twice by the same Red Jacket, began to organize the Christian faction among the Senecas in an effort to depose their aging sachem. Accusing him of defaming the president of the United States (why such a charge would carry so much weight among the Senecas is an interesting question), of disturbing and dividing the Seneca councils, and of opposing education, the Christians among the Seneca were able to strip Red Jacket once again of his power.

Red Jacket was soon vindicated, however. Several months later, in the spring of 1828, President Adams, stating that the deal with the Ogden Company was fraudulent and did not represent Seneca opinion, negated it. Now Red Jacket was reinstated.

Although pleased with the victory in this last battle, Red Jacket was a tired and deeply disappointed man. For years he had fought against the white man and argued among his own people for the right of the Seneca to their own land and their own way of life. On both fronts he had been badly defeated. What hurt him most, however, was the defection of his own family members. In 1821 Red Jacket's oldest son, to the sachem's great dismay, was married in the first Christian wedding ceremony ever held on the reservation. Three years later, Red Jacket's wife of over thirty years converted. His pride was stronger than his pain, and Jacket immediately stopped living with her.

Red Jacket, who died in 1832, did not live to see the unhappy resolution of the Ogden land deal. In 1838, for the third time in twenty years, the company again cast their eyes on Seneca land and consummated the same deal that President Adams had canceled eleven years earlier. This time the president, Martin Van Buren, approved it and when ratified by the Senate, the deal became law. Despite much protest from the Senecas and an elaborate campaign organized by the Philadelphia Friends, the deal, amidst well-publicized and substantiated charges of bribery and double dealing, went unchallenged. Times had changed. After eight years of merciless Indian removal under Andrew Jackson and under the pressure of a rapidly growing population in the city of Buffalo, there was little sympathy for the few thousand Senecas still living along the Niagara Frontier. And while advocates of the Senecas were able to negotiate a compromise which left the Indians some of their land on the Allegheny and Tonawanda reservations, by 1850 Red Jacket's Buffalo Creek reservation was abandoned and cleared for development. The Indian presence, so strong throughout the first twenty-five years of the century, had been completely eliminated. It is little wonder that it was following his visit to Buffalo in 1831 that Alexis de Tocqueville wrote:

In the heart of this society, so policed, so prudish, so sententiously moral and virtuous, one encounters a complete insensibility, a sort of cold and implacable egoism when it's a question of the American Indians. The inhabitants of the United States do not hunt the Indians with the hue and cry as did the Spaniards in Mexico. But it's the same pitiless instinct which animates the European race here as everywhere else.

Red Jacket: the final indignity

However gone, the Senecas were not forgotten. Particularly Red Jacket. Indeed, by the turn of the century Red Jacket had become Buffalo's favorite Indian. Streets, awards, memorials, and contests were named after him and his portrait, which depicted him wearing a gold medal given to him by George Washington, was hung prominently in the halls of the Buffalo Historical Society. As part of this community-wide effort to expiate the guilt of the past, the directors of the historical society in 1884 announced that they would exhume the body of Red Jacket, buried in the old Indian cemetery on the other side of the Buffalo Creek, and move it to Forest Lawn Cemetery in the city where it would be placed, along with the bodies of other Seneca chiefs, under a massive stone monument topped with a larger-than-life statue of Red Jacket himself. Incredibly, in the dedicatory speeches commemorating the event no attempt was made to hide the fact that all of this was being done in direct contradiction to Red Jacket's specific wishes that no white man dig his grave and that no white man bury him. At the reburial of Red Jacket, one of the directors of the historical society said:

The God put it into the hearts of these good men of the Buffalo Historical Society to take charge of his remains, give him a decent burial in a white man's graveyard and over his grave erect a monument which should tell his story to all future generations.

Five years later another director of the society, in writing about the Senecas as he remembered them in Buffalo, wrote:

Why attempt to civilize the Indians, or ameliorate their supposed condition? Only teach them with the strong hand of power to fear our superior race and let them alone in their rapid decay, until like the bison of the western prairies they are obliterated from the earth, as one of the ancient, traditional races of men.



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