United States. Office of Indian Affairs / Annual report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, for the year 1904, Part I
Report of agent for New York agency, pp. 702- PDF (940.0 KB)
REPORT OF AGENT FOR NEW YORK AGENCY. 703 cultivation, a good, substantial frame dwelling, barns, farming implements, and sev- eral hundred dollars' worth of live stock. The same law of descent by which this widow was classed as an Oneida, although at least one-half Onondaga, as a matter of course made her children Oneidas also, although actually three-fourths or more Onon- daga. And here came into action another Indian custom, seemingly somewhat pecu- liar, yet merely a natural outgrowth of their law of descent, viz, thatwhen a man marries into another tribe his children can inherit only his personal effects; that any rights he may have acquired to land must pass to his next of kin in his tribe. Well aware of all these tribal usages and customs, this particular widow assumed full control of the property, refusing to recognize the death-feast custom. It was rumored that she had to bribe the chiefs to indorse her action; but the Onondagas have no courts-no organized government-and the woman, having a good amount of nerve, triumphed, for the time being at least, over tradition and ancient custom, and thus far has suc- ceeded in "holding the fort." What will be done with the property when she dies belongs to the future. A few years ago an intelligent and thrifty Seneca residing on the Cattaraugus Reserve died, leaving a widow and five children by a former marriage and four by the widow. He had, in accord with tribal custom, inclosed and improved upward of 100 acres of good land; had erected thereon good, substantial buildings. The Senecas residing on the Allegany and Cattaraugus reservations are organized under a State law, with a peacemaker's court, a national council, and other officers, elected biennially. The oldest daughter and her husband took forcible possession of the homestead, compelling the widow to seek refuge elsewhere. Proceedings for the par- tition of the estate under consideration were instituted in the peacemaker's court which awarded to the widow the use of about 10 acres of land, including the dwelling and other buildings thereon, and issued a decree to that effect. The son-in-law refused to surrender possession of the property so awarded to the widow, even to the extent of resisting the Seneca marshal who undertook to execute a writ of ejectment issued by the peacemaker's court, driving that official off the premises with a shotgun. The widow then commenced an action in the State courts, which action is still pending. It may, of course, be some time before a final judgment therein will be rendered, but when that is done the same will probably be enforced. It is hardly probable that the sheriff of Erie County will be intimidated and forcibly prevented from exe- cuting the mandates of the courts. A third peculiar controversy lately arose on the Cattaraugus Reserve, hinging largely on the same point as that in the Onondaga case already mentioned. This particular Seneca, like the legendary Hiawatha, unmindful of parental injunction, wooed and won a dusky maiden who dwelt on the north shore of Lake Erie, in short, a Canadian. In this case the wife was the first to depart to the spirit world, the husband following a few years later. His next of kin claimed the property on the ground that his children npt being Senecas could not hold it "by inheritance. The children were advised by the Seneca surrogate to sell the real estate and take up their residence with their mother's people in Canada. Not being so minded, the children appealed to the State courts for protection, where the case in now pending. Another source of trouble is that of timber, which is becoming scarce on most of the reservations. Communal ownership of land precludes private property in standing timber, and this occasienally leads to annoying and perplexing situations. Actually any member of the tribe may cut for his own use (not to sell) any tree on the reserve, not only on unoccupied land, but within another's inclosure. To see one's neighbors cutting down a fine maple in a cherished sugar orchard must be anything but pleasant, and none the less aggravating from the fact that the same can not be prevented by law, nor the offender be legally punished therefor. The summer of 1903 was an unusually cool one throughout the State, and the corn crop was practically a failure; comparatively little ripened. Other crops were good, probably above the average. All of which is respectfully submitted. B. B. WEBER, United States Indian Agent. The COMMISSIONER OF INDIAN AFFAIRS.
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