Sunday, April 19, 2009

Sawyer, Slingerland, and The Act of 1871

I began researching the political history of the Stockbridge Mohicans before James Oberly's A Nation of Statesmen was published in 2005. Before his book came out I had a good understanding of how each successive treaty or act of Congress was supported by one tribal faction but almost always seemed to wind up hurting the tribe as a whole. But what Oberly's book got me to understand was the mechanism driving all the political tinkering: the United States federal government. The tribal factionalism often wasn't dealt with locally. Instead, it was very much about the Citizen Party allying itself with the Democrats in Washington D.C. and the Indian Party allying themselves with Republican legislators.

Many partisan letters and lobbying trips to Washington were needed to accomplish the following:
* The act of 1843 which made the Stockbridge Mohicans "citizens" (it is possible that white Democrats initiated the process that led to this act).
* The act of 1846 which reinstated the tribe to federal recognition.
* The treaty of 1848 in which the Indian Party were to get a new reservation in what is now Minnesota.
* The treaty of 1856 which established a new reservation in Shawano County.
*And, now, the act of 1871.

Essentially what happened in the act of 1871 is that the Shawano County reservation was shrunk to one-fourth of its original size. Leaders of the Indian party engaged in closed-door negotiations with Republican leaders, especially with Wisconsin Congressman Philetus Sawyer (pictured), a lumber-barron from Oshkosh who coveted the White Pine in Shawano County (and elsewhere).

What did the Indian party want so badly that they were willing to give up three-fourths of the reservation for? They wanted the Citizen party to be disenfranchised. In 1871 the Indian party didn't want Citizen party members to have a share of the annuity payments they were getting and they didn't want them to live on the reservation or cut its timber. (I will support this statement with data from primary sources in future posts.)

When I started my research, I wanted Jeremiah Slingerland to be a hero since he was both a Stockbridge Mohican and a minister. But Slingerland was also a very partisan political leader. He didn't act alone, so maybe I shouldn't single him out, but his closed-door negotiations with Philetus Sawyer are just one of the things he did that were good for his own faction but not good for the ancestors of all of today's Stockbridge Mohicans.

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