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Seneca Removal

The Seneca are one of the Five Nations of the Iroquois Confederation that have their roots in present-day upper New York near the Genesee River and Lake Canandaigua. Some of the Seneca moved from New York to Ohio at the beginning of the Revolutionary War, settling along the Sandusky River. When that conflict ended, a band of the Cayuga moved to the area, where they were granted a reservation. The Iroquois, with the exception of the Oneida, had sided with Britain in the war, so many feared reprisals from the victorious Americans. To complicate matters further, the defeated British had ceded land claims for their Native American allies as well as their own in the peace negotiations. Subsequently, some of the Iroquois moved from New York to Canada, but others negotiated with the Americans for reservations on their former lands. Other Iroquois bands found themselves without lands and so were forced west, where they joined the Cayuga in Ohio. Another group of Seneca had affiliated with a band of Shawnee and, known as the Mixed Band of Seneca and Shawnee, had a tract of land in Logan County, Ohio.

After the Indian Removal Act (1830), the Seneca of Sandusky entered a treaty at Washington with the U.S. commissioner from Ohio, James B. Gardiner, on February 28, 1831. The agreement was signed by Comstick, Small Cloud Spicer, Seneca Steel, Hard Hickory, and Capt. Good Hunter and ceded 40,000 acres in Ohio in exchange for lands in Indian Territory. The Seneca prepared well for the journey, packing up household goods, agricultural implements and tools, and seeds.

The Seneca left their village on the Sandusky in the late autumn and traveled to Dayton, undergoing unceasing rain and cold weather. They were taken by canal boat to Cincinnati, where they were to embark on the steamboat Benjamin Franklin to travel to St. Louis. However, many of the people feared explosions and fires on the riverboats, so they elected to travel on horseback. For both those traveling overland and those on the steamboat, it took eight months to travel the rest of the way to the northeastern corner of Indian Territory because they were delayed by bad weather, floods, and sickness. When the Franklin arrived in St. Louis, the conductor, Henry C. Brish, attempted to make the Seneca comfortable as they waited for their wagons for the overland journey. In early December 1831, they left St. Louis for Indian Territory, traveling by wagon, on foot, and on horseback. When they reached about 55 miles from St. Louis, they could go no further, being beset by the extreme cold and an outbreak of measles. They camped for the winter near Troy, Missouri.

In the meantime, the group that left Ohio on horseback reported that their conductor had deserted them, leaving the people without money or sustenance, near Muncie, Indiana. Their leaders, Small Cloud Spicer and Seneca John, sent a letter to President Andrew Jackson as well as to Brish seeking help. Brish left his people camped at Troy, went to Muncie, and led that party overland to Troy. There he found the encampment filled with sick and dying. The combined party set out again, on muddy roads and through high water. On the way, the people suffered and some died, but Brish pushed them on. On July 4, 1832, the Seneca reached their new lands in northeastern Indian Territory.

The Mixed Band of Seneca and Shawnee, meanwhile, negotiated a treaty with the federal government that was concluded in July 1832, by which they ceded their Ohio lands for 60,000 acres in Indian Territory. The Mixed Band was scheduled for removal along with some Shawnee from Wapakoneta and Hog Creek as well as Ottawa from four small reservations in northwestern Ohio. Refusing to travel by steamboat, they engaged in a running argument with the federal government, which favored water transport because it was faster and cheaper than overland travel. The argument delayed their departure until September 1832. Members of the Seneca-Shawnee contingent traveled on horseback, their possessions carried in oxen-drawn wagons. They were followed by the Wapakoneta Shawnee and the Ottawa. Along the way, the group was accosted by whiskey sellers and other whites eager to cheat them out of money and rations. Even the disbursing agent and his relatives extorted money from the meager funds allotted for the removal. The weather was bad, with rain, snow, cold, and high winds, thus slowing progress. At one point, the contingent ran out of rations and hunted animals to eat. On December 13, 1832, the Mixed Band of Seneca and Shawnee arrived in the new land.

Upon arrival, they were amazed to find out that the land promised them lay entirely inside the Cherokee Nation. The federal government consequently treated with the Sandusky Seneca and the Seneca-Shawnee to settle the issue. Under the terms of the treaty signed at Buffalo Creek on December 29, 1832, the two groups were combined as the "United Nation of Senecas and Shawnees," and they were to hold lands east of the Neosho, north of the Cherokee line, and west of the Missouri state line. The Mixed Band was to occupy the northern half of the tract, and the southern portion went to the Seneca of the Sandusky.

When the Civil War broke out, the Seneca and Shawnee signed a treaty with the Confederacy, thus bringing down the enmity of federal troops when they invaded Indian Territory in spring and summer of 1862. Two-thirds of the people fled to Kansas, where they took refuge with the Ottawa until the war ended; they returned to their war-torn lands bereft of livestock and other goods. In 1867, the federal government imposed its Omnibus Treaty (1867), which provided for the sale of part of the Seneca and Shawnee's lands to other tribes being removed from the North. Another major provision was to separate the Seneca and the Shawnee; the Seneca of Sandusky and the Mixed Band Seneca were united as the Seneca, and the Shawnee became known as the Eastern Shawnee.

James W. Parins


Further Reading
Foreman, Grant. The Last Trek of the Indians. New York: Russell and Russell, 1972; Wright, Muriel H. A Guide to the Indian Tribes of Oklahoma. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1977.
 

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