The Re-internment of Red Jacket and Mary Jemison

  By Brian Kellogg

In "South Buffalo, NY, James Napora writes the following:    

Red Jacket and Mary Jemison: On the crest of the hill at the intersection of Buffum and Fields Streets stands a memorial to the Senecas. The site, one of numerous Indian villages in the area, also served as the location of a burial ground. It was here that Red Jacket, the great leader opposed to the selling of Indian territory to the white man, was buried. Also interned here were the remains of Mary Jemison, the "White Woman of the Genesee." Captured by Indians as an infant, she lived her life with them along the Genesee River before moving to the Buffalo Creek Reservation in 1831. The remains of both were removed from the burial ground by John Larkin in 1894 [Sic?].

Red Jacket is now interned, against his dying wishes, at Forest Lawn, and Jemison at Letchworth State Park.

I am concerned with the inference that John D. Larkin was the agent of the removal. 

According to the recollections of Imogene Strickler, whose father had purchased the land containing the cemetery, New York State in 1893 ordered the removal of all the remains from the cemetery.  Over 700 bodies were removed. - Western New York Heritage,  Fall 2004, p 36

Furthermore, these particular graves had already been vacated:

Red Jacket's remains, after being surreptitiously removed from the cemetery in the 1850s, were eventually re-interred with elaborate ceremony in Forest Lawn in 1884.  Mary Jemison's remains had been removed to Glen Iris by William P. Letchworth in 1874." - Western New York Heritage,  Fall 2004, p 35

In addition, I can refer you to The Life of Mary Jemison  written by James Seaver and published in 1824 originally but subsequently reprinted.  The version I refer to is the 5th edition from 1877 actually published by William Pryor Letchworth in 1877 and it contains an account on page 272, added by Mr Letchworth, of the removal of Mary Jemison's remains.  It takes the form of a reprint of a newspaper article from the Buffalo Commercial Advertiser, March 10, 1874 and goes on to  clear up the misunderstanding it had created in a previous article about desecration of an Old Grave.  I quote from this article of March 10, 1874: 

The process of exhuming took place on Friday last by Mr. Kraft, undertaker, with the direction of Dr Shongo whose wishes were particularly observed throughout. The remains, which were but slightly distinguishable, were conveyed to the Erie R R depot the same day.  They were taken to Castile Station in charge of Dr Shongo and the same afternoon and during Saturday afternoon from Castile station to the Genesee River, followed by a numerous cortege in carriages, comprising the best citizens of Castile and from "The Reservation," a number of whom knew "The White Woman" when alive, and held her memory in respect.

Dr Shongo was James Shongo, grandson of Mary.  His mother was Polly Jemison who married George Shongo.
The Larkin Connection

Any confusion with the Larkins must stem from their later gift to the city.

Recently the remainder of the Old Indian burial ground, not taken for a street, has been purchased by Mr and Mrs John D. Larkin, and given to the city for the purposes of a small public park.  A brief record of its history, inscribed on a bronze tablet, is about to be fixed durably to a boulder placed on the ground. - William Pryor Letchworth Life and Work written by J. N. Larned and published by Houghton Mifflin Company of Boston 1912, footnote p.96.

In 1897 the Buffalo Express urged that the Mission Church site and the vacated burial ground be incorporated into the Buffalo Park System saying, "No other place in Buffalo rivals these in the wealth and significance of early associations."  No action was taken.  After two subsequent failed attempts to preserve the site in 1902 and 1905, Mr. and Mrs. John D. Larkin in 1909 purchased the cemetery property and donated it to the city for park purposes.

A large granite boulder was brought from the Larkin's Queenston, Ont. farm.  A bronze plaque in the shape of a wolf skin was attached to the boulder.

The text of the plaque reads as follows:    

In this vicinity from 1780 to 1842 dwelt the larger portion of the Seneca  Nation of the Iroquois League.  In this enclosure were buried Red Jacket, Mary Jemison the White Woman of the Genesee and many of the noted chiefs and leaders of the nation whose remains have been removed and reburied elsewhere. 

To the Generosity of Mr. and Mrs. John D. Larkin who presented it to the City of Buffalo is due the preservation of this historic site. - Western New York Heritage,  Fall 2004, p. 36

Mrs. Larkin's mother had taught at the Seneca Mission House in her youth. Born Hannah Frances Hubbard, and known as "Frank," was the daughter of Juliana Frances Reed (Read?) and Dr. Silas Hubbard, and elder sister to Elbert Hubbard.  She was indeed highly sympathetic to everything Indian.  In fact, she was notably absent from the June 29, 1912 dedication ceremony, presumably in protest of the inglorious history giving rise to the day.

And lastly,

Today all is changed. Woodlands gave way to farmlands, which later bowed to real estate developer and builder. The city has absorbed the reservations. Old chiefs and tribes are gone. Even the bodies of those buried in the nearby cemetery were removed to Forest Lawn, and the feet of children at play scamper today where once they slept. The coffin of Mary Jemison has been taken to Letchworth Park. The Indian church is gone; the Mission House replaced by School 70. Only reminders of the romantic are a few names - Seneca Street, Indian Church Road, Indian Orchard Place - and the old Indian Burial ground now a part of the city park system through the generosity of John D. Larkin, and the old Tolliver house. - Buffalo Courier-Express, October 13, 1940 

So, in sum,

... the loss of the 50,000 acre Buffalo Creek Reservation in 1842 has been described as "one of the ugliest episodes of trickery in our history."  The first Buffalo Creek Treaty 0f 1838 aiming to eliminate all the Seneca Reservation in Western New York was so fraught with blatant improprieties that, after being contested by the Senecas and their Quaker advocates, it failed to be ratified.  The "compromise" Buffalo Creek Treaty of 1842, allowing for the retention of the Cattaraugus and Allegany Reservations and the elimination of the Buffalo Creek Reservation, although similarly flawed, was ratified by the federal government. - Western New York Heritage,  Fall 2004, p. 34-35

Mr. and Mrs. John D. Larkin were concerned that this plot of land with its sacred associations might be lost to commercial interests. In 1909, John purchased the land from Allen D. Strickler and presented it to the city to be used as a memorial park.  On June 29, 1912, an impressive ceremony of dedication took place at Seneca Indian Park.  It must have been gratifying to him to know that the Indians made a point of stating to the press that, although they felt their burying ground should not have been made a public park, "they do not feel that Mr. Larkin bought their grounds and gave it for a park with any disregard for their feelings.  They have only the most friendly feeling for him...and do not blame him in the least for their discomfort." - Buffalo Express, June 30,1912, p. 29 
 Interesting to note: 

Dr. Marion White, after studying the extensive artifacts retrieved from various excavations in the area, concluded that the date of the original site was circa 1500.  Thus, the South Buffalo site was contemporary with both the Shelby Earthworks (see Heritage Summer '04) and the St. Lawrence River Iroquoian site visited by Jacques Cartier in 1536, Hochelaga. - Western New York Heritage,  Fall 2004, p. 33    

Essay © 2006 Brian Kellogg
Page by Chuck LaChiusa
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