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Grand Sachem   2 comments

What historical event would you have liked to witness?

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Wow, that’s a great question. As a history geek, it might be easier to ask what historical event I would NOT want to witness – which would be the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. I’ll stick with the movie version, thank you. That said, if they ever invent a time travel device, I’d take a grand tour of history and probably not come back.

Image result for image of tarheBut … honestly … I guess I have to narrow it to ONE event ….

I’m going to assume I’m a fly on the wall …. Following the prime directive of time travel, I don’t get to interfere in the event because space-time continuum pollution is a BAD thing.

Rather than a single event, I would like to follow a person and a series of events in his life. Sachem Tarhe is probably the most famous Wyandot Indian in history — a war-leader with a gift for diplomacy – variously known as  Tarhee, Tarkee, Takee, the Crane or – by the French – as Le Grue, Le Chef Grue, or Monsieur Grue.

Born near Detroit to a woman of the Porcupine Clan, Tarhe’s name might mean “tree”, which makes sense since he was 6 ft 4 in a day and age when six foot was considered tall. The name is now pronounced Tar-hee, but the earlier writers indicated that the accent was on the second syllable (so Tar-Hay). Tarhe was a warrior who served in most if not all of his nation’s battles, possibly even the Braddock fight when he would have been 13 or 14 years old. It’s known he was at Dunmore’s War and conspicuous at the Battle of Point Pleasant. He was a contemporary with Tecumseh, but they often disagreed sharply, especially on the need for peace with the white settlers and the value of negotiation.

The Wyandots were prominent in the defeat of Braddock in 1755. A Huron/Wendat from Lorette, Quebec, commanded all of the Indians in the battle. Although there was French support, it was truly an Indian victory. A contingent of Ottawa warriors led by Chief Pontiac were at Braddock’s defeat. Tarhe supported Pontiac at Detroit eight years later, so it would be interesting to know if the older man noticed the young Wyandot at that early age.

Pontiac depended heavily on the Wyandots in 1763. The chieftain whom Parkman refers to as “Takee” was almost certainly Tarhe. Another Wyandot, Teata, went along (with some reluctance), but his group of Wyandots never exhibited the enthusiasm of Tarhe’s followers.

Historians identify the Wyandots (also known as Wyndake) as the premier warriors of the Midwest and victories at the Battle of Bloody Bridge, Fort Sandusky, Presque Isle and elsewhere could hardly have been won without the Wyandots’ contribution. By 1763, when barely 20 years of age, Tarhe was regarded as a leading warrior.

Tarhe became Sachem – a war leader, but he never became chief, which carried the title of Ron-Tun-Dee, or Warpole. Although regarded as a very brave man, Tarhe was not considered a truly great warrior by his own tribe. The Wyandots loved and respected him but they believed Round Head, Zhaus-Sho-Toh, Khun, Splitlog and others to be superior warriors. In a nation of warriors excellence was commonplace.

The Grand Sachem was the titular head of the warriors of the Wyandot nation (women were the chiefs of non-war matters … including land distribution, which is why when whites negotiated with the sachems, the agreements were not wholly binding under Indian tradition). Truly great war chiefs (Grand Sachem) held the title of Sastaretsi. Wyandots didn’t have royalty, but the title of Sastaretsi was in actual practice often inherited. developing a hereditary line of chiefs. If Sastaretsi died without a suitable heir, the tribal council (controlled by the women) selected a successor.

Such an occasion arose in 1788 when Too-Dah-Reh-Zhooh died. he was better known by his many other names, such as Half-King, Pomoacan, Dunquad, Daunghuat and Petawontakas.

Tarhe was chosen to be the successor of Too-Doh-Reh-Zhooh. There is no record of any other member of the Porcupine Clan having become Sastaretsi up until that time. Sachems had always come from the Deer, Bear and Turtle clans. Tarhe, a Porcupine, had exhibited unique abilities as war leader and was selected by general consensus to guide the Wyandots in the desperate days as the new American military sought to gain control of the old Northwest Territory that included Ohio and parts of Michigan. Although he assumed the duties and powers of Grand Sachem, it is not believed that Tarhe ever assumed the title Sastaretsi.

And, I’d like to know why. Tribal legend says he was a fairly humble  man, so perhaps it was a personal choice. Some folks assume it was clan bigotry, but he was given all the power of Sastaretsi which puts the lie to bigotry. So why didn’t he assume the title?

Tarhe had already gained the respect of the various tribes and of the French, British and Americans long before this time. In 1786, Tarhe and his son-in-law, Isaac Zane, were listed among the witnesses to a United States treaty-signing with the Shawnee. Zane was a captive white raised in Wendat culture. He was later reunited with his white family, but chose to return to the Wyandots. He later married Tarhe’s daughter and served as Tarhe’s primary interpreter.

Tarhe became Grand Sachem in 1788, a critical time when the American government sent Arthur St. Clair into the Ohio Territory to reestablish peace (and pave the way for the founding of Marietta, Ohio, which was being built as Adelphia (brotherhood) at that time). St. Clair had been instructed to offer back to the tribes some lands north of the Ohio River and east of the Muskingum River in exchange for disputed territory where settlers already were. St. Clair defied orders and instead threatened the tribes with attack and then bribed several pliable chiefs into a one-sided agreement called the Treaty of Fort Harmar on January 9, 1789.


I’d love to be a fly on the wall in 1788 to see what transpired … to actually know rather than just surmise why Tarhe agreed to this devil’s deal. Was it because he was brand-new as Grand Sachem? Some historians believe the women tribal leaders might have instructed their freshly selected Grand Sachem to sue for peace at any cost. Did his interpreter not explain the negotiations properly? I kind of doubt that because Isaac Zane was a tribal member whose sympathies lie with the Wyandot and by all accounts he spoke English and Wendat fluently.

In later years, Tarhe helped negotiate many treaties as Grand Sachem, attempting to hold his tribe together, serve the other tribes in the area and relinquish each parcel of land only after the pressures had become unbearable. It makes no sense that he’d agreed to the Treaty of Muskogum as a successful and intelligent war chief only two years before, but then he’d agree to accept the Treaty of Harmar which completely contradicted that earlier treaty. After the Harmar treaty broke down, he personally led the fights against Clark, Bouquet, Harmar, St. Clair and Wayne. Although Tarhe was eventually defeated, both his enemies and his friends knew he was dedicated first and last to the welfare of his people.

So what happened in 1788 that he didn’t defend his people’s’s interests? There are legends that claim Tarhe chose not to accept the “gifts” St. Clair offered.  There’s the theories about the women and his interpreter. I never heard one in which people accused Tahre of being greedy, though it is said of other war leaders who signed the treaty. I’m not sure which of these I believe and I’d rather know for certain. This man is a hero of my tribe. Did he deserve that honor? I wish I knew.

The last battle Tarhe fought in personally was Fallen Timbers in 1794. The Indian alliance in the Ohio region was tattered by that time and Fallen Timbers was a devastating defeat for them. The only tribe to fight with distinction was the Wyandots. Pinned down near the river, they suffered heavy casualties — of the 13 chiefs who entered the battle, only Tarhe survived and he was severely wounded.

Most Indians realized their cause was lost after Fallen Timbers. The British had promised to support them if they attacked the American settlers and then failed to do so and the tribes could no longer assemble a force capable of opposing Wayne. Almost all of the Indian leaders in the Midwest responded and pledged peace at Greenville in July 1795. A notable exception was Tecumseh. At this great assemblage of Indians who met with Wayne, the acknowledged leader of the Indians was Tarhe, and a principal interpreter was Isaac Zane, his son-in-law.

During the lengthy negotiations Tarhe made several speeches. The following example of his eloquence gives some measure of his intellect:

“Elder brother! Now listen to us. The Great Spirit above has appointed this day for us to meet together. I shall now deliver my sentiments to you, the fifteen fires. I view you, lying in a gore of blood. It is me, an Indian who caused it. Our tomahawk yet remains in your head- the English gave it to me to place there.

Elder brother! I now take the tomahawk out of your head; but with so much care you shall not feel pain or injury. I will now tear a big tree up by the roots and throw the hatchet into the cavity which they occupy; where the waters will wash it away to where it can never be found. Now, I have buried the hatchet, and I expect that none of my color will ever again find it out. I now tell you that none in particular can justly claim this ground- it belongs in common to all. No earthly being has an exclusive right to it.

Brothers, the fifteen fires, listen! You now see that we have buried the hatchet. We still see blood around, and in order to clear away all grief, we now wipe away the blood from around you, which together with the dirt that comes away from it, we bury with the hatchet in the hole we have made for them, and replace the great tree, as it stood before, so that neither our children, nor our children’s children can ever again discover it.


Brother! We speak not from our lips, but from our hearts, when we are resolved upon good works. I always told you that I never intended to deceive you, when we entered upon this business. It was never the intention of us Indians to do so. I speak from my heart what I now say to you. The Great Spirit is now viewing us, and did he discover any baseness or treachery, it would excite his just anger against us.”


Echoes of Liberty (The Clarion Call Book 2) by [Walsh, Richard, Andersen, Diane, Brumley, Bokerah, Knowles, Joseph, Markham, Lela, Chiavari, Lyssa, Biedermann, Heather, Schulz, Cara, Johnson, Mark, Mickel, Calvin]Chief Tarhe died in November 1816, at Cranetown near Upper Sandusky Ohio. The funeral for this 76 year old man was the largest ever known for an Indian Chief. Among the Indians coming from great distances was Red Jacket, the noted leader and orator from Buffalo, New York. The mourners wore no paint or decorations of any kind and their countenance showed the deepest sorrow.

By the way, I have been so fascinated by this question that when asked to write an alternative historical fiction short story with libertarian influences, I chose to focus on what the Treaty of Harmar could have been if only someone had had the vision … and the US Constitution had not been ratified. “A Bridge at Adelphia” can be found in Echoes of Liberty, a project of the Agorist Writers Workshop, which comes out with an new anthology this fall … and, yes, I have another story in it, a modern Alaskan take on the fable “The Mouse and the Lion”.

And now that I think about it, it is really sad that the prime directive of time travel is don’t interfere because I would love to see what America would have become if Europeans had assimilated to American Indian culture rather than just flooded in and took over. I suspect we’d be different and, hopefully, better, retaining both elements of our combined culture.

Lela on Indian Nations and States Rights   4 comments

Thom, this is why I like our conversations. You force me to dig back into my memory and, when it fails, research. Last week you said I was off base on the Civil War and you ended up defending Indian sovereignty against someone who is a member of a tribal nation. That’s kind of ironic, I think.


DSC01494First, I don’t agree with you about the payback thing. We need to stop the back-and-forth retribution attitude and move forward. I’m pretty sure if I dig deeply enough I would find a white ancestor who killed Indians in retribution for my ancestor Barasallai killing white settlers in the Michigan wilderness circa 1810-ish. To be angry at one and not the other would be inconsistent and to be angry at both would be schizophrenic. There are parts of both sides of my heritage that I love and parts of both sides that I find regrettable. “Move on and let the dead bury the dead” is my motto. I don’t see a racist behind every bush trying to bring back Indian transportation. I see people who look a lot like my dad who are mostly trying to be my friends, who may not understand my family history … as I may not understand theirs. I don’t hold them accountable for the actions of their long-dead ancestors. I only hold them accountable for what they personally do to me and then I give them the rough side of my tongue if I feel it’s necessary. I don’t need special status to do that. It’s a natural right we’re all born with as humans.

The Wendake (Wyandot in the US) share a reservation with the Cherokee in Oklahoma, but I admit my grasp of Cherokee history was mostly confined to a PBS special. The Wyandot were “free” by the 1830s, they had been accepted as American citizens, which meant they had a very different history than the Cherokee and other tribes who refused to assimilate. They chose to reconstitute as a tribe in the 20th century. Most of my immediate family had already assimiliated, but my grandmother registered with the tribe and my mother became friends with distant cousins in Oklahoma.  I’ve never lived on the reservation, but I do visit and I am a full-fledged voting member of the tribe. And now I’ve brushed up on my Cherokee Nation history and I understand why they were angry, but I still don’t understand why my cousins feel we should join them as our experiences were very different.

The Wyandot consider themselves to be a nation too, but you know – I don’t buy into it. Especially groups like the Cherokee and Wyandot who have no blood quantum standard for membership — it feels a little bit like a scam. Because I am a member of the tribe, I can claim to be an American citizen when it’s convenient. I can vote for President and claim Constitutional protections. When things aren’t convenient, I can claim to be a citizen of the sovereign Wyandot Nation, slip into the Cherokee Nation reservation and they’ll protect me. Literally, I’ve seen them (all of the tribes that share the reservation) circle the wagons (pun intended) and hide someone from outside authority, which walks on egg shells on Indian land. I don’t buy that. It’s having it both ways and that argues against my belief that we’re all pink inside and equality means all races being treated the same under the law.

It’s all predicated on two decisions in the 1830s that were dancing around Indian apartheid. The SCOTUS refused to hear the Georgia case because, they said, they couldn’t determine if Indians were American citizens, sovereign nations outside of the United States authority or some sort of enclave under US protection. Since they refused to rule, transportation – which was what the Cherokee were trying to prevent – was undertaken. Less than a year later, the SCOTUS ruled they were sovereign citizens of their own nation who could resist transportation on their own land, but the Trail of Tears had already begun, so they had no land on which to resist, but also because they weren’t citizens, they had no rights in US courts to protest what was happening to them. Those decisions were used later with other tribes to assert that Indian “nations” didn’t have a right to the land the US gave them by treaty because it was not their ancestral land. Pretty sweet Catch 22 — unless you happened to be a member of one of the unassimilated tribes.

At about the same time, the exact same US government that transported the Cherokee against their will offered the Wyandot money for their land in Ohio and a substitute grant of land in Kansas. The Wyandot agreed if they could become American citizens. The citizens stayed in Kansas when it became an organized territory. Those that didn’t become citizens were transported to Oklahoma in the 1870s, because non-citizen Indians didn’t have any rights. Whoa, there’s a pattern there!

I am not saying what the US and Georgia did to the Cherokee was right. I have some personal theories about how American history would have turned out had the government done things differently, but they didn’t and that can’t be changed. What if wasn’t, which leaves us with what is. Today, because white folks feel guilty for the actions of long-dead white folks against long-dead Indians, Indian nations now have special rights.  I object to that because it continues the cycle of racism and retribution. Can’t we all just be Americans? No white privilege, no Indian pride, just folks? American culture is a crazy quilt of glorious diversity and I love that.  Not only should you respect my culture, but I should respect yours — or at least your right to celebrate it. What would be so wrong with actual post-racial America? That only happens when all American citizens are equal before the law, but if I have special status, then I am more equal than you are. I want to be judged by the content of my character, not the color of my skin.

Now, once again, setting aside the slavery issue and just looking at states rights …

The bombardment of Ft. Sumter was equivalent to the shot heard round the world, when the British moved on vital American interests and the Americans moved from diplomacy to defending themselves. South Carolina seceded from the union in December. Between that time and President Lincoln’s inauguration in March of 1861, the seceding states tried hard to avoid aggression and President Buchanan took no military action, noting that while he believed the states had no constitutional authority to secede, he could find no constitutional authority for him to prevent it. While refusing to allow the resupply of Ft. Sumter, the South offered a peace treaty and to buy the military installations it was asking the Union to vacate. Because Buchanan was a lame-duck president, he didn’t move on those requests, but they could have settled the issue peacefully. Instead, Lincoln came into office and, like King George before him, refused to acknowledge the rights of the people of the seceding states to self-determination and moved to resupply Ft. Sumter, which controlled Charleston Harbor.

Last week, you said no country could be expected to ignore the bombardment of one of its military facilities. True, except that South Carolina had declared its independence and asked what it viewed as an army of occupation to leave. And, there is American precedent for that. No country could be expected to accept the encroachment of an aggressive neighbor in their most vital port. The bombardment of Ft. Sumter was no different than the siege of Boston or the bombardment of New York during the Revolution. For the Southerners, the Union Army were refusing to leave their country when asked peacefully. The Union Army had taken aggressive military action to entrench themselves in a strengthened position in control of a vital South Carolinian national asset. What choice did South Carolina have but to defend its territory or submit to what amounted to colonial tyranny? Had Lincoln taken Buchanan’s view on the situation, the bombardment never would have happened. Instead, he forced the issue and South Carolina moved before he could take control of their harbor.

I don’t know how we can say it was okay for the Americans to stand up against British colonial aggression and protect the arms cache at Concord and yet turn around and say it wasn’t okay when our government took the role of England against the Southern states. It amounted to the same thing.

Secession is in American blood, after all. We seceded from Great Britain in 1776 AFTER they forced the issue. During that war and for several years after, each of the rebelling colonies considered itself a sovereign nation cooperating with a dozen similar sovereigns in a relationship of shared goals. The Articles of Confederation explicitly asserted that each state retained its “sovereignty, freedom and independence”. It was too loose a confederacy to work and the Articles could not be amended, which is why they were replaced by the US Constitution. Most states joining the union were of the belief that they had retained the right of secession. New England threatened twice, the South threatened over tariffs in the 1830s and the border states threatened during the Civil War. Clearly half the states in the union are on record for thinking they had a right to secede.

Just because the Constitution lacks a specifically stated right to secession does not mean there isn’t one. The 10th Amendment states “the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” In other words, the federal government was always supposed to be subordinate to the states or to the people — and was until the Civil War. The US Constitution was written by people who believed wholeheartedly in the revolutionary right of a free people to change their government anytime they see fit. They had just done that within their lifetimes. It’s enshrined in the Declaration of Independence. Notably, Abraham Lincoln himself expressed a similar sentiment in 1947 on the floor of the US House of Representatives:

“Any people, anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuation, a most sacred right, a right which we hope and believe is to liberate the world.”

I guess “any people, anywhere” did not include the Southern states when he was President. They had no “sacred right”.

James Madison, father of the Constitution, argued in the Convention that the Constitution would be “analogous to conventions among individual states” and  “a breach of any one article by any one party leaves all other parties at liberty to consider the whole of the convention as dissolved.” From the Southern point of view (and I must thank a Southern friend for explaining this to me), the United States had breached several articles of the Constitution and thus the whole of the convention was dissolved.

Thom StarkI don’t think you can argue that prior to the Civil War, most Americans thought that secession was not allowed or that states rights lacked validity. The very way in which the western states were admitted into the union suggests they saw states rights as important. Why was Missouri allowed to be a “slave” state and Kansas was admitted as a “free” state if not because states were recognized as having rights?

But you are entirely right that since that time, most people have been of the opinion that states have no rights, but that’s based on the Union winning the war, not on any changes in the Constitution undertaken by all parties. I’m arguing that states should have their rights restored and that if the federal government continues to force its one-size-fits-all tyranny on the states, they will eventually breed another round of secession and civil war. Recognition of states rights as Constitutionally intended could possibly prevent the dissolution of the union.


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