Many moons ago, while working in a broadcast facility down in Ottawa County, Okla., one of my co-workers seemed to think I needed to meet her husband. We were both in the process of building a new house at the time – he in Seneca, Mo., and me on nearby Grand Lake of the Cherokee in Northeast Oklahoma.Seneca is located in the Lost Creek Valley, five miles upstream from the Grand Lake on the Missouri-Oklahoma border and, for many years, has been home to a giant can of Milnot.
So, one afternoon we went over to their house and got acquainted and soon became fast friends. Their names slip my mind at the moment, but they were both, no doubt, Native American. So, I posed the question, “Are you guys members of the Seneca Nation?” Much to my surprise, he replied, “Of course, everyone in this town is Seneca!”
Now Seneca was not a very big town, less than 2,000 at the time, so I assumed the Seneca was a small tribe. More recently, I found myself in Seneca, Kan., which does not have a big Milnot can, However, I was reminded of those friends from out of my past, sparking a little curiosity about the history of the Seneca Tribe.
The Seneca have a rich heritage and were not in the least a small band of Indians. They were the largest of six Native American nations which comprised the Iroquois Confederacy, a democratic government that pre-dates the United States Constitution. In fact, it’s the oldest living participatory democracy on earth.
Those sixth nations are the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayugas, Tuscaroras and the Seneca. The historical Seneca occupied territory throughout the Finger Lakes area in Central New York State, and in the Genesee Valley of Western New York, living in longhouses. The people relied heavily on the “Three Sisters,” corn, beans and squash, which were known as Deohako, (pronounced: Jo- hay- ko) "the life supporters." In addition to the women raising crops, the warriors were fierce hunters and fishermen.
The Seneca were known as the “Keepers of the Western Door.” The Iroquois thought of their combined territory as one large longhouse with the Seneca guarding the western entrance and the Mohawk guarding the eastern entrance.
All the main Iroquois nations except the Oneida had allied with the British in the American Revolution. Of course, they lost the revolution and when the British gave up all of their land claims to the United States, they also turned over all of the Iroquois land claims, so the Indians were forced into Canada.
Over time they were granted reservation rights back in New York, but probably half of them drifted down into Ohio instead to get away from the encroaching Colonist. In 1831, the tribe sold their lands in Ohio and accepted a reservation in the Cherokee Nation (the northeast corner of present-day Oklahoma). The trip to their new home took eight months, plagued by delays, blizzards, disease, and death. When the American Civil War came along, the Indian Territory became an intolerable battleground. So, many Seneca and Cayuga fled to Kansas (Seneca, Kan.) for safety, although that neighborhood was also subjected to insurgent violence.
Today, the Seneca–Cayuga Tribe of Oklahoma is a federally recognized tribe, with tribal headquarters located about 10 miles from Grove, Okla. Seneca, Kan., is located along U.S. 36 west of St. Joseph, and is the county seat of Nemaha County. The Kansas town of Seneca grew up along the old stagecoach route from St. Joseph to Oregon and California.
In recent years back in Missouri, Milnot Condensed Milk changed ownership, so the Milnot can has now been updated to the new label design, since the jelly man, J.M. Smucker took over.
Reference: Six Nations Indian Museum, Onchiota, N.Y.
Ted Stillwell will be a guest speaker at the Shepherd's Center at 11 a.m. Oct. 4 at Christ United Methodist, 14506 E. 39th St., Independence. The meeting starts at 9 with a travel show, followed by book review on the “Trail of Feathers” by Jeanette Melton at 10 a.m.
Ted W. Stillwell is available to speak before any club, church, civic, senior, or school groups. You may reach Stillwell by phone at 816-252-9909 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.