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United States. Office of Indian Affairs / Annual report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, for the year 1904, Part I
([1904])

Report of agent for New York agency,   pp. 702-[704] PDF (940.0 KB)


Page 703

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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