But what caught my eye was this sentence about his childhood on the frontier:
He played with Indian boys at this time, finding them companionable, and at one time was employed to hoe corn for old Chief Hickory, a very friendly Indian.
An Indian chief was my ancestor’s employer? At least for an afternoon? Who was Chief Hickory, and what more do we know about him? Indians of the time did not write autobiographies, were not listed in the Census, and generally did not leave tracks unless they were leaders or otherwise came to the attention of frontier society. But for a (nearly) anonymous Indian, we can learn a few facts about Chief Hickory.
His full name was Hard Hickory (17??-1831). He was a member of what was called the Senecas of Sandusky (now the Seneca-Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma). The Senecas of Sandusky were of Iroquois stock, the Seneca having been one of the tribes of the Iroquois Confederation. The Senecas of Sandusky were probably a mix of Seneca, Cayuga, Wyandot, and Delaware tribesmen. They had been living along Sandusky River in Ohio since at least 1768.
Hard Hickory’s people were not warrior/hunters of the prairies, but rather a farming Indian of the Eastern Woodlands tradition. In warm weather, they farmed the land, growing pumpkins, corn, and beans. After centuries of living exposed to white culture, they often lived in log cabins, using iron tools, and most men had guns. Of course, they were traditional Indians in cultural aspects like war dances, adoption of captives by running the gauntlet, and wintertime hunts. Their council house was in fact at Green Springs, where Granddad Rathbun met them.
But Indian life was not just a glorified camping trip. The Seneca had a deep fear and respect of the supernatural, including a belief in witchcraft. Hard Hickory was incidentally part of the story of Seneca John. Seneca John was another chief of the tribe, and the younger half-brother of Steel and Coonstick. The aforementioned brothers left Seneca John and another chief, Comstock, behind while the scouted new land for the tribe in the west. On their return, they found Comstock dead and Seneca John occupying his position as chief. Steel and Coonstick accused Seneca John of witchcraft that caused the death of Comstock, and sentenced him to death.
Horace Knapp wrote the finale of Seneca John’s story and the role of Hard Hickory in his dates 1872 History of the Maumee Valley. In writing about Sardis Birchard, a frontier storekeeper at Fremont (and the father-in-law of President Rutherford B. Hayes), Knapp mentions that
Hard-Hickory lived about a mile below Green Springs, in a cabin yet standing, and Seneca John, the night before his execution, slept under Hard-Hickory's porch. Steel and Coonstick, at sunrise, called and waked him. John told them to kill him quick. They tomahawked him. Mr. B. obtained this statement from Hard-Hickory, who came into town that day, or the next, with Tall Chief, and told him about it.
Apparently Hard Hickory had enough of a house or cabin to have a porch for someone to sleep under. He also was an acquaintance of Sardis Birchard.
The artist George Caitlin, who painted Hard Hickory, described him:
Hard Hickory; a very ferocious-looking, but a mild and amiable man…Good Hunter and Hard Hickory, are fair specimens of the warriors of this tribe or rather hunters; or perhaps, still more correctly speaking, farmers; for the Senecas have had no battles to fight lately, and very little game to kill, except squirrels and pheasants; and their hands are turned to the plough, having become, most of them, tolerable farmers; raising the necessaries, and many of the luxuries of life, from the soil.
Henry Howe, the early Ohio historian, also mentions Hard Hickory:
The Senecas of Sandusky – so called – owned and occupied forty thousand acres of choice land on the east side of Sandusky river….By the treaty concluded at Washington city, February 28, 1831…these Indians ceded their lands to the United States. At this time their principal chiefs were Coonstick, Small Cloud Spicer, Seneca Steel, Hard Hickory, Tall Chief, and Good Hunter….(p. 574)
Hard Hickory traveled with other leaders of the Seneca to Washington to the signing of the treaty, and also signed a statement stating that they were not interested in receiving missionaries, but:
We should be glad to have you send persons to us to learn us how to plough, and sow, and reap, and teach us all the arts of agriculture. This would make us happy
But Hard Hickory never made it to Oklahoma, where the tribe was relocating. According to William Lang’s 1880 History of Seneca County, Hard Hickory embezzled some annuity money. Lang described Hard Hickory in glowing terms:
Hard Hickory was the leading mind among them. He was a leader of no ordinary grade. He was possessed of polished manners, seldom seen in an Indian. He spoke the French language fluently, and the English intelligibly. Scrupulously adhering to the costume of his people, and retaining many of their habits, this chief was much endeared to them. His urbanity, his intelligence and ardent attachment to the whites, and, above all, his strict integrity in business transactions, obtained for him — and deservedly- — the respect and
confidence of all with whom he traded.
confidence of all with whom he traded.
But Hickory fell from grace. He took some annuity money due the tribe, and spent it during the aforementioned trip to Washington. The tribesmen were outraged, and some of the same men who had conspired to kill Seneca John resolved to murder Hard Hickory, including Hickory’s nephew Shane:
On being assured that Shane was alone, Hickory directed his wife to unbar the door and let him in, which she did. Shane wore a blanket, and approached Hickory in the middle of the room, holding out his left hand, while his right was under the blanket, holding the handle of a long knife. Hickory held out his right hand to Shane, and as soon as their hands were grasped, Shane drew his knife and stabbed Hickory through the body, and then dragged him out of doors, where several Indians stabbed and tomahawked him. Thus perished the renowned chief Hard Hickory, with the seal of falsehood stamped upon his hitherto fair character.
It would be interesting to talk to Hard Hickory, Seneca John, or other actors in this drama. Was it witchcraft or jealousy? Was this knowing embezzlement or misunderstanding of the use of government funds? Most of the accounts of Hard Hickory that have comedown to us are second or third hand accounts from whites of varying degrees of hostility.
I prefer to remember Hard Hickory as an Indian, a farmer, and a man kind enough to hand a hoe to my great grandfather, and point to a planted field near a green spring. My own grandfather, four generations later, let me work in his garden near the same spring when I was young. In a figurative way, then, I gardened with Hard Hickory.
[Along with the sources listed in the essay, I also used: