Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Tribal Reorganization of the Stockbridge-Munsee

If you've read about how the Stockbridge Mohicans were left for dead, you can appreciate their tribal resurrection. Although James Oberly did a good job of writing about the tribal comeback (with a politcal focus), I really like the broader focus of John Savagian in his article that appeared in the Autumn, 1993 issue (v.77, n.1) of the Wisconsin Magazine of History. The full title of that article is "The Tribal Reorganization of the Stockbridge-Munsee: Essential Conditions in the Re-Creation of a Native American Community, 1930-1942." (Incidentally, Savagian is a history professor at Alverno College in Milwaukee and he's also a reader of Algonkian Church History.)

As Savagian points out, the Stockbridges saw their land base in Shawano County go from over 40,000 acres in 1856 to less than one hundred acres by the 1930's. He observed that the strong-willed Carl Miller (probably a Quinney descendant) began corresponding with Franklin D. Roosevelt's Commissioner of Indian Affairs, John Collier, early in 1934. Collier was seeking Indian support for the Wheeler-Howard bill and he got it from the unofficial leaders of the Stockbridge Mohicans.

The Wheeler-Howard bill, after being gutted of the funding that was intended to go with it, was passed into law and became known as the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) of 1934. In some of the reading I've done, the IRA is bashed because it didn't prove helpful to some tribes, but that same law gave the Stockbridge Mohicans the opportunity they needed.

As Savagian tells it, eleven families [Oberly says it was twenty families] were chosen to settle on the submarginal land purchased from the Brooks and Ross Lumber Company. Carl Miller and Superintendent Ralph Fredenberg from the Bureau of Indian Affairs picked the first families based on their willingness to "make a good showing." The work of their hands in their first harvest in the fall of 1937 proved their industrious nature:

"They gathered 500 bushels of potatoes, 500 bushels of corn, fifty bushels of rutabagas, twenty bushels of beets, fifteen bushels of carrots, and 300 squash and pumpkins. They prepared 500 quarts of fruit preserves, gathered thirty tons of hay and corn fodder, and raised eight cows, nine horses, eight hogs, and 125 chickens" (Savagian, 56).
Much of Savagian's article is about how the Stockbridges ironically benefitted from the Great Depression. Only because the economy of the whole country needed a boost were New Deal programs available for the tribe to use in the re-establishment of their reservation.


Scott said...


I continue to enjoy your blog. You do an outstanding job filling in little known aspects of this interesting tribe.

My own reading on Stockbridge-Munsee tribal history has raised a question in my mind and I have yet to find a good answer for it.

My question revolves around the name of the Tribe when it was reorganized under the IRA of 1934. Previous treaties and documents declared the Tribe's name as such and such Indians or such and such Tribe or Band of Indians.

Suddenly in 1937 and 1938, the tribal constitution and the tribal corporate charter labeled them as the Stockbridge-Munsee COMMUNITY. The word "community" seems like an unusual why to legally name and define an Indian tribe.

Someone told me the BIA/OIA used that term to reorganize tribes who's continuous existence could not be verified.

Do you had any insight into this question?

Jeff Siemers said...

Hi Scott. Your question is addressed on my post of 9/1/2009: