A Guide to the Indian Tribes of OK: Seneca

SENECA

 

Written by: Muriel H. Wright

Foreword by: Arrell Morgan Gibson

 

The name of this tribe is from the Iroquoian term which means “people of the standing of projecting rock or stone,” derived originally from Onĕñiute’ roñ’ non, rendered in the Mohegan dialect Onĕñiute’ a’ kă’ which, in turn, was Anglicized from the Dutch enunciation to Seneca. The tribe belongs to the Iroquoian linguistic family, the largest division of the Five Nations or League of the Iroquois, who were the first found occupying western New York

Some researchers believe that the Seneca in Oklahoma are not Seneca proper. They were known as the Seneca of Sandusky when they moved from Ohio to the Indian Territory in 1832, a people called Mingo in colonial times who moved early in the eighteenth century from Pennsylvania to the Ohio and thence to the Sandusky River region, where they became known as Seneca of Sandusky. As the years passed, other bands or remnants of tribes united with them so that they came to include some of the people of the Erie, Conestoga, Cayuga, Oneida, Mohawk, Onondaga, Tuscarora, and Wyandot. It is inferred that the nucleus was largely Erie and Conestoga who were dependent upon the Seneca and lived on Seneca territory along the Ohio and Sandusky rivers whence the name Seneca of Sandusky. Doubtless, however, there was some early intermarriage in these groups with the Seneca proper that gives the Oklahoma Seneca relationship with this well-known Iroquoian tribe of New York.

  • Present Location: The Seneca are principally located in Ottawa County, having been allotted lands in severalty on their reservation in the southern part of the county east of the Neosho or Grand River.
  • Numbers: Approximately 875 members of the Seneca tribe are connected with the Quapaw Subagency in Oklahoma, the largest tribal group in Ottawa County. The census report by the United States Indian Office in 1944 gives 861 under the name Seneca at the Quapaw Agency, of whom 476 are listed in Ottawa County and 885 elsewhere in Oklahoma and other states, these numbers including the descendants of other tribal bands (Erie, Conestoga, Oneida, Cayuga, Onondaga, Tuscarora), among whom the Cayuga form the largest single group. A total of 372 Seneca were finally allotted lands in severalty at the Quapaw Agency before Oklahoma became a state. A total of 352 Seneca of Sandusky (including Cayuga, etc., q.v.) arrived from Ohio in the Indian Territory in the summer of 1832. An enumeration at the close of 1832 shows 275 Seneca of Sandusky at their new location on the Cowskin River.
  • History: The Seneca tribe of Sandusky ceded Ohio lands (40,000 acres in present Sandusky and Seneca counties) and agreed to move to the Indian Territory by the terms of a treaty concluded at Washington on February 28, 1831, by James B. Gardner, United States commissioner from Ohio, and the tribal-chiefs and warriors, Comstick, Small Cloud Spicer, Seneca Steel, Hard Hickory, and Captain Good Hunter. They received in exchange for their Ohio lands 67,000 acres in the Indian Territory, bounded on the east by the Missouri state line and on the south by the north line of the Cherokee Nation, making a tract that extended west 15 miles and north 7 miles.

The removal from Ohio was delayed until late in the fall of 1831 owing to the slowness of the coming of the government supplies promised by the treaty and the reluctance of the Seneca to leave their country. They were a provident people who worked and planned to take with them articles of clothing, household goods, farming implements, and quantities of seeds for planting their new land. Heavily loaded with baggage, they finally left their village on the Sandusky River, embarked by steamboat from Dayton, and arrived on November 16 at St. Louis. They reached their destination on the Cowskin River, northeastern Indian Territory, July 4, 1832. Their journey had taken eight months and was beset by long delays and great suffering from winter storms, floods, sickness, and death. On their arrival, they found their new country with western boundaries that overlapped those of the Cherokee, who had also been ceded their lands by United States treaty.

Another band of Seneca who had been long confederated with a band of Shawnee (q.v.), known as the Mixed Band of Seneca and Shawnee, owned a tract of land near Lewiston, in Logan County, Ohio. This Mixed Band (including a band of Wyandot, q.v.) concluded a treaty with the United States on July 20, 1832, providing for an exchange of their Ohio lands for 60,000 acres in the Indian Territory, with their east boundary lying two miles west of the western boundary of the country ceded to the Seneca of Sandusky. The tract ceded the Mixed Band of Seneca and Shawnee was thus wholly within the limits of the Cherokee Nation. Members of the Mixed Band left Ohio in September; and, after many hardships and deaths from cholera that was raging in the white settlements along the rivers, a part of this Indian tribal group (258 persons) arrived at the Seneca Agency on the Cowskin on December 13, 1832. To their dismay, they found themselves without a country, for the Cherokee objected to their settlement on the tract assigned them by the government under the recent treaty.

In the meantime, to secure the removal of all the Indian tribes from the east of the Mississippi River to the Indian Territory, in keeping with the Congressional act of May 30, 1830, President Andrew Jackson appointed a special commission in July, 1832, to treat with the Indians, the commission members being Governor Montfort Stokes of North Carolina, Henry Ellsworth of Connecticut, and the Reverend John F. Schermerhorn of New York. The first work of this commission in Oklahoma was the adjustment of the lands assigned the Seneca from Ohio. A treaty made at the Seneca Agency near Buffalo Creek (branch of the Cowskin River) on December 29, 1832, signed by Chief Comstick together with thirteen leaders if the Seneca of Sandusky, and by Chief Methomea or “Civil John” with eleven leaders of the Mixed Band of Seneca and Shawnee, provided for the confederation of the two groups under the title of the “United Nation of Seneca and Shawnees.” The two tribal groups gave up to the United States all claims to lands lying west of the Neosho or Grand River (i.e. overlapping lands in the Cherokee Nation). As the United Nation, they were to occupy and hold in common a tract lying east of the Neosho or Grand River, bounded on the south by the Cherokee line and on the east by the Missouri state line, the north half, or 60,000 acres, to be granted in fee simple to the Mixed Band of Seneca and Shawnee, and the south half to the Seneca of Sandusky. This treaty, the first made by the United States with the immigrant Indians within the boundaries of Oklahoma, thus provided for the basic title of Seneca lands in this region, much of which was years later sold in small tracts to other Indian tribes.

An official report in 1837 shows the general condition of the Seneca Agency tribes in the Indian Territory, from which there was little change during the next twenty-five years. A census report (1837) gives 200 Seneca of Sandusky, with Comstick, first civil chief; 211 Mixed Band Seneca and Shawnee, with Civil John, first civil chief; and 50 Mohawk (q.v.). These people were civilized according to frontier standard, were generally steady in deportment, and most of the them could speak English, although they were not interested in a school for their children. They did not live in villages, but settled in chosen locations over the country where they farmed and raised livestock. Their homes were neat log cabins furnished with homemade furniture, all constructed by themselves. One of the natives—John Brown—was a merchant who had a store near the agency. There was also a miller, a tailor, and a cooper among them. Under treaty provisions, the government maintained two blacksmith shops and a grist and saw mill. When the Methodist Episcopal church, South, was organized in 1844, the Seneca were included in the Cherokee District of the Indian Mission Conference, John F. Boot serving as Indian pastor on a circuit in 1846.

In October, 1861, following the outbreak of the Civil War, Commissioner Albert Pike secured a treaty with the Seneca in behalf of the Confederate States, signed at Park Hill, Cherokee Nation, by Little Town Spicer, second chief, of the Seneca of Sandusky; and Lewis Davis, principal chief, and Joseph Mohawk, second chief, of the Mixed Band Seneca and Shawnee. Their country, located as it was bordering Missouri near both the Kansas and the Arkansas lines, was ruthlessly plundered of horses and cattle and other supplies for the army when Federal forces from Kansas made their first invasion of the Indian Territory in the spring and summer of 1862. More than two-thirds of the Seneca and Shawnee, having suffered great losses in the property and livestock, left for Kansas where they remained with the Ottawa on their reserve until after the close of the war. At this time, the Seneca and Shawnee, together with the Quapaw (q.v.), were listed at the Neosho Agency at Baldwin City, Kansas.

The last treaty with the Seneca and Shawnee of northeastern Indian Territory, referred to as the “Omnibus Treaty,” was concluded at Washington on February 23, 1867, providing for the sale of part of their lands for the settlement of several small tribes that had been located in Kansas: Wyandot, Ottawa, Peoria, Kaskaskia, Wea, Piankashaw, and their affiliated tribal bands included under these names (q.v.). The treaty provided for the separation of the Seneca from the Shawnee, the latter to be known as the Eastern Shawnee (see Shawnee); all the Seneca (the Sandusky and the Mixed Band) to be joined as one tribe under the name Seneca. Beginning with 1871, the affairs of the two tribes were reported from the Quapaw Agency, now a subagency located at Miami, Oklahoma. The Seneca School, still in operation hear Wyandotte in Ottawa County, was established in 1869-70 as a mission by the Friends Orthodox.

The Seneca were allotted their reservation lands in severalty and their tribal affairs generally settled and approved by Congress on May 27, 1902.

•  Government and Organization: The Seneca are incorporated as “Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma,” under the provisions of the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act of June 26, 1936. Their charter, issued by the Secretary of the Interior, was ratified by the adult members of the tribe on June 26, 1937, by a vote of 161 for and none against, in an election in which over 30 percent of those entitled to vote (450 in the Quapaw Agency area) cast their ballots. Certification of the election was signed by Thomas Armstrong, chief, and Grover C. Splitlog, secretary-treasurer of the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe. The election of officers for the next two-year term was held at the annual meeting of the Council in June, 1947, when tribal members selected David Charloe, chief; Peter Buck, Roy Fisher, and Thomas Peacock, councilmen; and Ruby Charloe, secretary-treasurer.

•  Ceremonials and Public Dances: The Green Corn Feast with its ceremonials and dances is held by the Seneca-Cayuga on an announced date in summer, generally at Turkey Ford on the Cowskin River, near the Ottawa-Delaware County line.

 

Suggested Readings: Grant Foreman, Last Trek of the Indians; Hodge, Handbook of American Indians; Wilson, Quapaw Agency Indians.