[[Here’s my favorite intro. essay for Brothertown Indian Nation history and for beginning to appreciate the unique and awesome achievements of the Brothertown. This posting is special reading: not maintained any more on the Brothertown Indian Nation website, but found in my old devices, saved from my first Febr. 2011 flurry of learning on the topics! Enjoy! — Gabriel K. ]]
Brothertown Indian Nation
by Caroline K. Andler
Brothertown or Brotherton Indians – the name has been used interchangeably for over two hundred years – are unique from many other tribes. Ours is an amalgamated group that was formed from the Christian members of the coastal tribes who made the first contact with the Europeans. As a result of the Great Awakening, a religious movement in New England during the 1740’s, many Indian people in southern New England converted to Christianity, including numerous Mohegan, Pequot, Narragansett, Montauk, Tunxis, and Niantic. Today’s members of the Brothertown Nation are descendants of these tribes. Missionaries who worked among the Algonquian speaking tribes gathered our ancestors into seven towns. In Rhode Island, this town was Charlestown. In Connecticut, the towns were Groton, Stonington, Niantic, Farmington, and Mohegan. On Long Island, New York, the town was Montauk.
As our ancestors tried to live Christian lives in New England and New York, they found it difficult to resist the pressures from settlers of European descent who lived around them. Non-Indian settlers encouraged them to abuse alcohol, give up farming, and sell their lands. By the 1700’s, the tribes were poverty stricken, decimated by wars and disease. They were struggling to survive both economically and culturally. A small group of young natives educated at Eleazer Wheelock’s Indian Charity School in Lebanon, Connecticut, became the impetus for forming a new community. Two of our Mohegan ancestors, Joseph Johnson and Samson Occom, became the leaders of a plan for removing some of the Christian Indians of the seven Praying Towns to fresh country where they might live amicably together. (See The Collected Writings of Samson Occom, Mohegan: Literature and Leadership in Eighteenth-Century Native America, by Joanna Brooks, ed., Oxford University Press, 2006). In March 1773, at Mohegan, representatives from the seven Indian towns gathered to discuss Johnson’s project for the emigration to new lands. Johnson made the long trip to New York to ask the Oneida Indians to share a piece of their vast lands. Johnson delivered the chief speech on January 20, 1774, in the Oneida council house at Kanawarohare. (See To Do Good to My Indian Brethren: The Writings of Joseph Johnson 1751-1776, by Laura J. Murray, ed., University of Massachusetts Press, 1998.)
Following negotiations, the Oneida promised their brothers a ten-mile wide tract of land in what is now called Upstate New York. In the spring of 1775, Johnson led a small group of mostly Farmington young men to Oneida and began planting crops and putting up homes in preparation of the main party yet to come. The timing couldn’t have been worse. By 1777, our ancestors were driven from their new land by the British and their Indian allies. They were forced to flee, seeking safe haven with the Stockbridge in Massachusetts until after the American Revolution. (see http://www.mohican-nsn.gov/). With the end of the war, our ancestors took up where they had left off. They quickly established a form of government for their community and returned to clearing and planting the land. However, they did this without the leadership of Joseph Johnson, who had died in the summer of 1777. Having earlier married Samson Occom’s daughter Tabitha, Johnson was survived by his young bride and their two sons.
In 1784, Samson Occom came with the first group to migrate after the war. Though old and ailing, he continued to work, to teach, to preach, to collect funds for his beloved people. He was an ordained Presbyterian minister, a hymn writer, and an experienced schoolmaster. On November 7, 1785, Occom named the settlement. “But now we proceeded to form into a Body Politick – we Named our Town by the Name of Brotherton, in Indian Eeyamquittoowauconnuck.”
By the early 1800’s, our ancestors began to feel the demand for land from non-Indian settlers. The state of New York began to purchase vast tracts of Oneida land, leaving the New York Indians with a rapidly shrinking land base. In the end, the Brothertown Indians left their New York homelands for less coveted lands in Wisconsin. The federal government lent its support to a plan for moving three of the New York Indian tribes to unsettled lands in Wisconsin. In 1821, and again in 1823, delegations composed of tribal representatives from the Brothertown, the Stockbridge, and the Oneida, traveled to Green Bay, Wisconsin and negotiated the purchase of millions of acres, with both transactions solidified by treaties. Soon afterward, the Menominee contested the treaties because they felt they had been misled. They challenged the treaties so profusely that the United States Senate refused to ratify either treaty. The federal government finally mediated the dispute in 1831 and 1832, with a series of three treaties. As part of the compromise, 23,040 acres along the eastern shore of Lake Winnebago, in present-day Calumet County, was reserved for the Brothertown. Indians from the three tribes began leaving New York in small groups, traveling to Wisconsin by water, taking the Erie Canal to Buffalo, New York, and then steamboat on the Great Lakes and into Green Bay. The first group arrived in the new country in 1831, just one year after Congress passed the Indian Removal Act.
Our ancestors were hardly settled in their new location, having been pressured out of New York and pushed off their land at Kaukauna, when a new threat appeared. The federal government entered into negotiations with the tribes in New York and Wisconsin to exchange their land in Wisconsin for land in Indian Territory. On January 15, 1838, the United Stated concluded a treaty at Buffalo Creek, New York. This treaty would put pressure on the tribe to move once again, this time to Kansas. Brothertown Indian Thomas Commuck wrote: “Here we have taken our last stand, as it were, and are resolved to meet manfully, that overwhelming tide of fate, which seems destined in a few short years, to sweep the Red Man from the fact of existence. The thought is a sad and gloomy one, but the fiat seems to have gone forth, and we must submit.”
Our ancestors’ one, and possibly only, protection against this was to secure land in the same manner as the property of non-Indians—through private ownership. By a perversity of law, as long as the land was held in trust by the federal government, common and inalienable, it was subject to loss by government action. The Brothertown Reservation, like all reservations in the U.S. today, was technically owned by the federal government. In an effort to remain on the new lands in Wisconsin the Brothertown headmen requested a congressional Act that would divide the lands into individually-owned plots and grant Brothertown tribal members United States citizenship. Our ancestors were officially granted citizenship in 1839, eighty-five years before Congress passed the Indian Citizenship Act. They were the first American Indians to receive U.S. citizenship.
The Brothertown Indians did not seek relief of the right to self-govern or dissolution as an Indian Tribe. The Brothertown Indians continued conducting their tribal business just as they had since the establishment of the tribe in New York. They sent delegates to Washington, D.C., continuing to press claims against the government for the benefit of the tribe. In 1854, Laton Dick, Orsamus Fowler, and Lucius S. Fowler were given power by the Brothertown Nation at a public meeting, to “prosecute and obtain” “…a just and equitable claim against the government of the United States.” William Fowler went to Washington, D.C. as a delegate of the Brothertown tribe, pressing the claim of the Brothertown Nation based upon the assertion that the tribe should have received more land as a result of the treaty of 1831. On Feb 9, 1855, the judgment was made “By the ninth section of the act of Congress approved July 31, 1854,” authorizing the Secretary of the Interior “to investigate the claim of the Brothertown tribe of Indians against the United States and report the facts to Congress at its next session, or earlier if practicable, together with an estimate for such amount as may be found justly due the said Indians.” The report went on to deny that “any amount is justly due said tribe of Indians by the United States.”
In 1876, the Brotherto[w]n tribe appealed to Congress for legislation to permit the General Land Office to issue patents on certain unappropriated land within the Brotherto[w]n Reservation to the Brotherto[w]n tribe. The appeal provided that: “It is desired by the Brothertown Indians that the act to be passed empower and authorize the Commissioner of the General Land Office to issue a patent for the lands so unpatented to Laton Dick, Sen., Lucius S. Fowler, David Fowler and Orrin Johnson, residents of Brothertown, Calumet County, State of Wisconsin, and members of the Brothertown Indian Nation.” The memorial was signed by Lyman P. Fowler, “Delegated Representative of the Brothertown Indians.” Two years later, on April 20, 1878, Congress passed legislation entitled “An act to authorize the issue of a patent of certain lands in the Brothertown reservation, in the State of Wisconsin, to persons selected by the Brothertown Indians.” To do this, a majority of the tribe had to approve the sale, and Congress appointed five trustees among the Brothertown Tribal members to sell the land after the majority of the tribal members had approved the sale.
On February 10, 1893, a petition was filed “by the Indians who were parties to the treaty of Buffalo Creek, N. Y., on January 15, 1838 (7 Stat. 550), to enforce an alleged liability of the United States for the value of certain lands in Kansas, set apart for these Indians, and subsequently sold by the United States, as well as for certain amounts of money agreed to be paid upon their removal. These claims were referred, under the act of March 3, 1883, known as the ‘Bowman Act,’ to the court of claims. That court reported its findings to the senate January 16, 1892; and thereupon, on January 28, 1893, Congress passed an act to authorize the court of claims to hear and determine these claims, and to enter up judgment as if it had original jurisdiction of the case, without regard to the statute of limitations.”
In the 1920’s and well into the 1930’s, the Brothertown joined the Oneida and Stockbridge-Munsee in a legal battle over some of their previous land holdings in New York in a land case begun by Laura Cornelius Kellogg. She insisted the New York lands had been taken fraudulently by New York State and by land speculators. Kellogg and her husband organized a massive Iroquois land-claims suit. For this legal effort, they made exorbitant promises and collected funds from poor Indians in communities throughout the United States and Canada through a “Club” system, which, in the Brothertowns case, was run by members of the Brothertown tribe. They wrote letters, collected dues with threats of not being eligible to collect any money if members didn’t pay dues and make “loans” to the Kelloggs. You paid your dues and were a member of the “Six Nations.” Although the suit was dismissed, the suit and the demonstrated unity of the Brothertown people, even those who no longer lived in Wisconsin, illustrate the continuity of our tribal identity.
In 1950, the Brothertown Indian tribe participated in an action against the federal government via the Indian Claims Commission, an agency created to settle outstanding Indian claims against the United States. The Brothertown, along with the Oneida and Stockbridge-Munsee, took part in this lawsuit to receive reparation for lands the United States had taken without adequate compensation. After many years of litigation, we received a cash award. We need an updated tribal roll to collect individual annuity payments. Robert Fowler, a Brothertown tribal member and attorney from Fond du Lac, assembled the tribal roll. This activity brought together those tribal members who had fallen out of touch as a result of serving in World War II.
In 1978, the United States Department of Interior established guidelines for Indian tribes to regain federal recognition lost for various reasons. In the spring of 1980, we informed the Department of the Interior of our tribe’s intent to petition for federal acknowledgment and regain our government-to-government relationship with the federal government. We continue to work toward that goal.
Today, there are over 3000 members on the Brothertown tribal roll, all of whom descend from the Brothertown people who had the foresight to request U.S. citizenship to prevent being removed under the Indian Removal Act. Our ancestors received their allotment of reservation land when it was divided up under the Act of 1839. Most Brothertown still live in Wisconsin, near Fond du Lac and Lake Winnebago. We maintain an elected Tribal Council which holds meetings monthly. We are, as a tribe, continuing our fight for federal acknowledgment.
“For 170 years the Brothertown Indian Nation has maintained itself in spite of overwhelming economic, social and political pressures. We have been forced to move repeatedly in order to preserve our way of life. We have received guarantees from the United States, only to find the same government acting to strip us of our land. In our forefathers’ final effort to preserve our land base, they accepted land in severalty and citizenship, but instead of keeping the tribe together, the Act hastened our land loss. Despite the interference and failure of the federal government to protect the tribe, we, the Brothertown Indian Nation, have survived. It is our desire to continue the community of Brothertown Indians for our children and children’s children and on and on for perpetuity.”
“Brothertown Indian Nation: A Brief History” by Caroline Andler —
from Brothertown Indian Nation website, accessed Febr. 25, 2011.