Colonel Louis Cook
Although the Seven Nations were now allies of the British, there was at least one warrior involved in that conflict who refused to make peace with his former enemy. His name was Akiatonharónkwen—given in his day as either Atiatonharongwen or Atyataronghta—which has been translated as “he unhangs himself from the group.” His English name was Louis Cook. Louis was of mixed heritage, the son of an Abenaki woman and an African father, all of whom were taken captive in a 1745 raid by French soldiers and Kahnawà:ke warriors on Fort Saratoga, now known as Schuylerville, New York. He was adopted by his Mohawk captors and joined them in campaigns on Lake George and Lake Champlain in the French and Indian War.
When the American colonies declared their independence from the King of England, Louis received a commission as a lieutenant colonel in the Continental Army and recruited warriors to fight on their behalf. His presence at Valley Forge, Oriskany, and Fort Stanwix is well established by documentation from that era, and he was a personal acquaintance of Generals George Washington and Philip Schuyler.
The American Revolution was another conflict that divided the Rotinonhsón:ni Confederacy. While the official policy of the Six Nations was at first one of neutrality, many Oneida and Tuscarora warriors joined “Colonel Louis” and his small band of Kahnawà:ke warriors serving as rangers in the Continental Army. This alienated him from the Seven Nations of Canada, who were recruited to fight on the side of the British along with Mohawks, Onondagas, Cayugas, and Senecas.
Throughout the war, Colonel Louis became the mortal enemy of Joseph Brant, a Mohawk captain in the British army. When it ended, they continued to harbor a personal animosity toward each other that almost brought the Seven Nations and Six Nations to the brink of war. This situation reached critical mass when both men became involved in controversial land sales at the end of the 18th century.
Colonel Louis was eulogized by one 19th century historian as
…unquestionably the greatest man who has ever flourished at St. Regis, among the native population. His influence with his tribe was very great, and they always relied upon his council, and entrusted him with the performance of their more important business, not only with the other tribes, but also with the two governments.12
The modern St. Regis Mohawk Tribal Council would not be
far off the
mark to consider Colonel Louis the “founding father” of their
government. As this history suggests, the government that the mercurial
leader helped to create would be just as contentious as the man himself.