The Massena Observer, March 25, 1915
Facts About the St. Regis Indians
Six Thousand Now on the Reservation
They are Said to Be the First Tribe to Adopt A Republican Form of Government--Their Chief is 94 Years Old
The first race of Indians to adopt the Republican form of government is the St. Regis tribe in Franklin county, New York. The only difference between their government and that of the United States is the names which their officials take. Instead of head of the government being called a president, they use the word chief, and for his cabinet he has sub-chiefs. Under the latter there are several clerks. Three chiefs, with their sub-chiefs, hold what they call a tribal court, having authority to settle all disputes and aid the minor courts in exercising the law.
All officials are elected by ballot, and the Indians are known to be clever politicians. They have to be, for there are four parties in the tribe, each one having a separate ticket and emblem. The Iroquois put a horse over their ticket, the Mohawks use a cow, the Redmen an eagle and the Indians a rope and anchor. Elections are held every year, after which there is much excitement, as in any American city. Celebrations and a procession take place when government blankets are handed to the people by the new officials. In this manner they give their pledge to carry out the wishes of the people.
There are about 6,000 Indians on the reservation, most of whom have adopted Theodore Roosevelt’s teachings and have reared large families. This is true to such an extent that American Indians of New York State probably never will be exterminated. It is true that on other reservations the Indians are gradually disappearing in numbers and style, but this probably will never happen to New York Indians.
They have eight school districts on the St. Regis reservation, including one industrial school and two churches. Their homes are log cabins instead of the tepee, each having a living room and bedroom to the Indians, as they take more interest in the elections than they do in their homes. The pleasant home is the exception to the rule.
Little is known of the St. Regis Indians’ early history. No early records were kept. It is generally believed that they are descendants of the Mohawks. They settled on the St. Regis reservation soon after the battle of Sacket’s Harbor in 1812 and formed a religious colony.
The reservation covers an area of 36 miles in the northwest corner of Franklin county. It runs along the Canadian frontier, and the St. Lawrence river, containing some of the best farming land in that section. A large area is timbered, and there is pasture land.
Like other classes of American Indians, the members of the St. Regis tribe easily become victims of tuberculosis. It is said that the reservation schools have contributed more than any other cause to the spread of the White Plague among them.
But if the death rate is high, their birth rate is higher. There is little reason to fear that their numbers will be lowered by tuberculosis to the same extent as are the numbers of the Hopi, Zuni, and other tribes.
A small number among them have acquired good businesses and, in some cases, musical education. Some of them are successful dairy farmers, and are well-to-do financially.
Many of them are interested in sports, and not a few of them gamble. It has been said that “draw poker” originated on their reservation. At any rate one might be pardoned for believing so, as the men are experts in the game. Several American sharps have been “trimmed” so neatly at the reservation that they had to borrow car fare home.
The leading industries are rearing horses and cattle, hay farming, fishing, trapping, basket weaving and the knitting of sweaters. They are natural trappers, and the wampum belt is replenished each season from the sale of furs.
When September comes, everything is laid aside, and the Indian and his family go to the hop fields, traveling in covered wagons, carrying a camping outfit and all the necessary accessories. Some of the Indians travel two or three hundred miles during the hop picking season. They return to the reservation some time in October and a big pow-wow takes place.
No description of the reservation would be complete without mention of one of the churches which stands in the center of the old graveyard where the original log church the first on the reservation, stood. It is one hundred years old and has a steeple 225 feet high. Near the choir stands a pipe organ costing more than $5,000, it is said. The church has a membership of nearly 5,000 people. There is also a mission on the reservation.
Louis Foote, head chief of the St. Regis tribe, is one of the most interesting men in Northern New York. He is said to be 94 years old and one of the shrewdest politicians on the reservation. It is said that the reservation government is controlled by an inside clique which has all the tricks of Tammany, and uses them to even better advantage, than the New York City organization. The clique is credited with having held power in the reservation for years.
The St. Regis Indian, like their brother Redmen all over the country especially the new generation, make a great deal of sports, and excell at base ball and track events. The St. Regis base ball club is always speedy and a game between the team and one of the summer resort organizations which are maintained throughout Northern New York during the season is certain to attract a large gathering. One would have to travel far before finding a more interesting group of children than is found at the Reservation Industrial School for Girls. Some of them make great progress in their studies.