The Society of American Indians Fourth Annual Meeting
UW-Madison, October 1914
The Society of American Indians, the Wisconsin Idea and Tribal Communities
BY LARRY NESPER, DEPARTMENT OF ANTHROPOLOGY AND AMERICAN INDIAN STUDIES PROGRAM
Prominent Native Americans from across the country and Wisconsin gather in front of Lathrop Hall on the UW-Madison campus in 1914, visiting Madison for the fourth annual meeting of the Society of American Indians.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison has had a long relationship with the indigenous nations in the state as part of its commitment to the Wisconsin Idea. In 1914, the Society of American Indians held its fourth annual meeting on this campus, bringing together Indian leaders from the entire country, with the plurality of the Indian participants coming from the state of Wisconsin.
The so-called Indian Progressives -- middle-class professional Indian men and women -- were concerned with ways to improve Indian health, education, civil rights and government. The group brought together luminaries such as Laura Cornelius, Angel De Cora, Charles Eastman, Carlos Montezuma, Arthur C. Parker, Henry Roe Cloud, Marie Baldwin and Rev. Philip Gordon, a Wisconsin Ojibwe and the first American Indian to be ordained a priest in the Roman Catholic Church. Henry Roe Cloud (Winnebago/Ho-Chunk) was the first American Indian to graduate from Yale, a member of the Meriam Commission that wrote the report that helped to end the Allotment Era of federal Indian policy that was so devastating for Indian communities throughout the United States. The physician Carlos Montezuma (Apache) was a national figure by this time as a vocal and articulate critic of governmental policy toward Indians. Angel DeCora (Winnebago/Ho-Chunk) was a professional artist and taught art at Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania.
The Society of American Indians has been mischaracterized by some as committed to the assimilation of American Indian people. The Society was a big tent, we might say today, and did include people who advocated assimilation – for example, the Oneida Dennison Wheelock, the band conductor at Carlisle Indian School. But his views were actively opposed even by fellow Oneida tribal member Laura Cornelius, who sought to develop the reservations as industrial communes with a degree of separation from the dominant society. Judge Hiram Chase (Omaha) also contested assimilation and vigorously defended tribal sovereignty throughout, at one point saying, “Everything that we have got has been by virtue of the treaties…” John Nuwi, custodian of five Big Drums, and Chief Shohn, both from the Potawatomi village at Skunk Hill in Wood County Wisconsin, also spoke passionately about the importance of the treaties.
A number of other leaders from the Wisconsin Indian communities came to the conference and spoke about the particular issues they were facing. Frank Gauthier translated for Chief Wyeshkit, leader of the Zoar community on the Menominee reservation, who spoke about the Menominees who fought in the Civil War, his need for help now, the shortcomings of the reservation’s superintendent, and his fear for the loss of his land. The translating skills of Ira Isham of Lac Courte Oreilles were the subject of a newspaper article in the Madison Democrat, noting that he was fluent in Ojibwe, Potawatomi and Menominee. Isham translated for Steven Grover, a Big Drum chief also from Lac Courte Oreilles, and for Billy Boy, also from that community.
Tribal member Henry Ashmun of Bad River, a graduate of the University of Michigan and the editor of the Odanah Star (published from 1913-16), attended the meeting and gave it extensive coverage in the newspaper on the Bad River reservation. Gus Beaulieu, editor of The Tomahawk, based at White Earth, also attended.
Finally, the Menominee lawyer William Kershaw -- a Corn on his mother’s side -- was the first vice president of the Society and an assistant attorney general for the state of Wisconsin in the early 20th century. Kershaw argued strongly for lifting the legal restrictions that the federal government had placed on Indian people.
The meeting was attended by 57 Indian people from at least 13 different tribes across the United States. Its proceedings were covered extensively by The Daily Cardinal, State Journal and newspapers throughout the country, including The Odanah Star, the tribal newspaper on the Bad River reservation in northern Wisconsin. A 100 page transcript of the meeting can be found at the Wisconsin Historical Society on microfilm, along with all of the papers of the Society. Two months after the meeting, a delegation met with President Woodrow Wilson and presented a memorial calling for citizenship for Indian people and the opening of the Court of Claims to hear their grievances. The work of the Society would lead to changes in federal Indian policy, especially through the work of the National Congress of American Indians, a successor to the Society of American Indians.
The Madison meeting was also noted in the Society’s journal, where it was lauded as “a substantial success,” declaring that “the hearty co-operation of President Van Hise of the University, and the tireless efforts of Dr. Charles Brown of the Historical Society, gave the conference members a splendid opportunity for presenting the aims and purposes of the organization.”
For his efforts to establish a relationship between the university and the Society, Charles Brown would be made honorary member – along with W. E. B DuBois, the only non-Indian members of the SAI.
The Wisconsin Idea
The meeting in 1914 seemed to motivate researchers at the University of Wisconsin to begin to reach out to the tribes in the state in the spirit of the emerging Wisconsin Idea. Professor Fayette MacKenzie, a sociologist from Ohio State University, who had played an instrumental role in organizing the first meeting of the SAI at his own university in 1911, attended the 1914 meeting here in Madison. On October 9, 1914, in a session held in Music Hall (a building that still stands today), he said the following about the university’s obligation to Indian people:
“This university has led gloriously the way of education in this country, but on this point, they have not yet come up to their duty….there are at least six thousand Indians in the state of Wisconsin and what are we doing?... Our fieldworkers are sent by our universities to China, to Africa, and to other far parts of the earth, but how many have you sent from this university to the Indians of Wisconsin and the United States?”
Charles Brown had gathered a number of faculty members and university officials as a planning committee to host the meeting. Did Dean Russell of the College of Agricultural and Life Sciences attend the meeting as an observer? He may have, as his college was not slow to act in sharing research developments with the tribal communities. In 1915, The Indian Farm Institutes in the Agricultural Extension Service began sponsoring farm schools and courses, first for the Menominee and Ho-Chunk, and then the Chippewa bands. The Farm Institutes sponsored educational programs for these tribes, followed by the Oneida, Potawatomi and Stockbridge-Munsee, for nearly 20 years. These relationships shaped both practices on the reservations and research agendas at the university. These institutes would last from 1915-1939. Other projects would follow.
Members of the Department of Anthropology have been involved with the tribes of Wisconsin since its inception. In the late 1930s and early 1940s, Morris Swadesh secured a grant from the Work Progress Administration’s Federal Writers Project and began the Oneida Language and Folklore Project that would be administered by Floyd Lounsbury. The project would generate hundreds of notebooks in Oneida history, folklore and ethnography. Those notebooks would be rediscovered in the late 20th century, with selections published as Oneida Lives: Long-lost Voices of the Wisconsin Oneidas, by Herb Lewis, in a collaborate project with descendants of the original group of Oneidas who generated the texts.
In the 1950s, the Economics Department’s Douglas Thorson worked with the Oneida Nation on a labor-force study, and C.W. Loomer of the Department of Agricultural Economics would work with the Menominees during the darkest period of their history, when the tribe was terminated as a federally recognized tribe. Loomer produced a study of recreational-industry potential in that community. And the Agricultural Experiment Station produced a research bulletin entitled “Land Tenure Problems in the Bad River Reservation of Wisconsin” in 1955.
The American Indian Studies Program (AIS) emerged in 1972, which led to a significant increase in American Indian students attending the university and strengthening ties to the tribal communities in the state. An affiliate of AIS, Patty Loew of the Life Sciences Communication Department, has worked with a number of the tribes in the state, documenting their histories both on film and through two books, Indian Nations of Wisconsin and Seventh Generation Earth Ethics: Native Voices of Wisconsin.
Shiela Reaves, also in Life Sciences Communication, played a valuable role in training Native American journalists in the state. Theresa Schenck, formerly in LSC and now in the Folklore Program, has also worked with some of the Ojibwe bands in the state. Professors Monica Macaulay and Rand Valentine in the Department of Linguistics are working in several of the indigenous languages of the state, teaching two, and working with the Ojibwe, Menominee and Potawatomi communities on grammars, dictionaries and teaching materials for second-language acquisition.
The Wisconsin Idea Seminar Bus Tour, an annual field trip for UW faculty members, has been visiting reservation communities in the state for the past 25 years. The Collaborative Center for Health Equity is part of the National Institutes of Health-funded UW Institute for Clinical and Translational Research and has worked with the Oneida, Menominee, Bad River and Lac du Flambeau communities as well as the Great Lakes Intertribal Council, a consortium of 11 tribes. The La Follette School of Public Affairs has worked with the tribes of the state for decades and most recently with the Menominees over the development of a gaming facility in Kenosha. The Landscape Architecture Department has worked with several of Wisconsin’s Native American communities to create affordable, energy-efficient housing on tribal lands throughout the state. The associated researchers in the Center for the Study of Upper Midwestern Cultures, together with the Folklore Program, have engaged the tribes in several different ways, including the development of cooperative cultural tours and a series of project collection guides that highlights a wealth of ethnographic documentation and public productions generated in the upper Midwest region since the 1970s.
The School of Education provides teacher resources and training on the history, culture and sovereignty of eleven tribes in the state, as mandated by state law. The School of Library and Information Studies is working with the Red Cliff Ojibwe community in developing a tribal library. The School of Human Ecology is working with the State Department of Children and Family Services in developing and implementing training programs.
Barbara Borns, then at the Nelson Institute under its former name, the Institute for Environmental Studies, began a project on water quality and related issues with the Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe in 1990 that was later extended to the Bad River Band.
Michelle Steen-Adams, Nancy Langston and David Mladenoff in the Department of Forest and Wildlife Ecology have worked with the Bad River Band on issues of common interest. The Center for Limnology has worked with members of the Lac du Flambeau Band of Lake Superior Ojibwe on envisioning the future of the Northern Highland Lake District. Professor Ankur Desai’s lab and the Nelson Institute Center for Climatic Research, in partnership with the Kemp Natural History Station and with consultation from the Wisconsin Alliance for Minority Participation, collaborated with the college of the Menominee Nation to provide educational opportunities in global climate change field research for students at the College. Recently, William Gartner in the Geography Department has been working with David Overstreet of the College of the Menominee Nation documenting the history of Native American land use and agriculture in northern Wisconsin. In years past, other researchers in the department have also worked with the tribes, as have members of the Botany and Genetics departments.
Under the direction of Dr. Alexandra Adams, the Medical School has undertaken the Wisconsin Nutrition and Growth Study in collaboration with Bad River and Lac du Flambeau bands of Ojibwe, the Menominee Nation and the Great Lakes Inter-Tribal Council. Dr. Erik Brodt heads the Native American Center for Health Professions. Professor Tracey Schroepfer has conducted workshops for the Ho-Chunk and Oneida “Share the Care” conferences on how to talk with loved ones about dying, as well as community-based participatory cancer research with Red Cliff, Bad River and La Courte Oreilles and the Gerald Ignace Indian Health Center in Milwaukee.
The Indigenous Law Student Association annual conference, which celebrated its 28th anniversary in March 2014, and the Connections Program that includes the College of Menominee Nation, are two high-profile contemporary manifestations of the relationship between the university and indigenous Nations. The Great Lakes Indian Law Center has been sending legal interns to the reservations every year for 18 years and is now providing drafting assistance on the Ho-Chunk Constitution. The American Indian Studies Program hosted the spring meeting of the Wisconsin Tribal Judges Association in 2007 and 2008, an outgrowth of anthropology professor Larry Nesper’s research on indigenous jurisprudence. Today, the Wisconsin Tribal Judges Association, in association with state judges, is leading the nation in working out the means of allocating jurisdiction between tribal and state court systems. American Indian Studies has featured tribal members from Wisconsin in its annual Storytelling event. The Great Lakes Indian Fish and Wildlife Commission, which is the inter-tribal natural resource management agency for the Ojibwe tribes in Wisconsin, Minnesota and Michigan that have treaty rights, maintains an office on campus. In 1995, a cooperative agreement was signed between the university and the Commission “to provide for cooperation in natural resources management” that remains in effect to this day.
University doctoral students, under the direction of their faculty mentors, have produced nearly 20 dissertations since the 1960s based on a research engagement with the different Wisconsin tribes.
There are, no doubt, many more university-tribal community research initiatives in our history. Fully documenting them would be a useful exercise and would create valuable resource. Suffice to conclude that at least since 1914, various units of the university have engaged in a productive manner with the indigenous nations in the state of Wisconsin, fulfilling aspects of the promise of the Wisconsin Idea.
Select Biographies of Attendees
The Society of American Indians was an association of American Indian intellectuals of the early 20th century who sought to improve the situation for American Indian people throughout the United States. The founding group included a number of people who would become national figures, including Dr. Charles Eastman, Dr. Carlos Montezuma, Laura Cornelius, Henry Standing Bear, Henry Roe Cloud, Arthur Parker, Philip Gordon, J.N. B Hewitt, Oscar Chase and Thomas Sloan. All of these figures are well published and most have been the subject of biographies. The 1914 meeting on the UW-Madison campus also attracted a number of Indian people from communities in the state, many of whom are not nearly as well known.
During the 2013-14 academic year, Professor Larry Nesper worked with five students in the Undergraduate Research Scholars Program in an effort to learn more about the people who attended the 1914 meeting. Those students were Brittany Cobb, Alaa Fliefel, Yackelyn Gonzalez, Dania Shoukfeh and Rachel Smitz. These student researchers worked with electronic newspaper archives, census materials, indices of published volumes and other databases in writing the short biographies.
HENRY CHARLES ASHMUN was best known as the editor of the Odanah Star, a newspaper based in Odanah, Ashland County, Wisconsin, on the Bad River reservation, where Ashmun was born in February 1877. This reservation mostly housed Native Americans from the La Pointe band of Chippewa. Ashmun’s parents, Alice and Charles Ashmun, moved to the Bad River Reservation from Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, so that Charles Ashmun and his two sons, Henry and William, could work as laborers with the Stearns Lumber Company. Charles also had a sister, Lucy. In Marquette, Michigan, Henry’s father had worked as a millwright and the family was well off. Henry’s father was one-quarter Chippewa and his mother, Alice, had a white father and a mixed-blood Chippewa mother. Henry was listed as “white” in the 1900 census but his father was listed as “Indian.” In the 1920 census, however, the whole family was listed as being “white.” Even so, Henry identified himself as Bad River Chippewa. During the U.S senate panel meeting in Odanah, on September 25, 1909, Henry argued that he had enough Indian blood to be granted land at Bad River like his father and younger brother had received. When he was 23, Henry moved out of his family’s home in Au Train, Michigan, and went to live in a house for single men in Sault. Ashmun also loved sports and he had been a sprinter and a member of the Sault baseball team.
Over the time that he worked at Stearns, Henry developed a strong dislike for the lumber company that seemed to be stripping the land of all trees. Ashmun also believed that Stearns was driving away Indian businesses to keep them from competing with it. He felt that the Indian Department in Washington, D.C., was not doing a good job of working for the Native Americans, but rather was supporting the lumber company by which many Indians were employed. Ashmun tried to isolate the company by speaking out against it, even though Stearns was one of the major advertisers in the paper and contributed a lot of money to the Star.
Ashmun edited the paper from 1913-1916, the entire time it was in print. He had learned the trade of printing from his uncle, Harry, who worked at The Sault News in Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. When the original owner of the Odanah Star, Antoine Denomie, left in May 1913 to represent the tribe in Washington, D.C., Ashmun -- who preferred to be called Duke -- took over as the new owner. At this point, he held the position of owner, editor, business manager and publisher. He appointed his brother William as assistant editor. The Odanah Star was a weekly that had the usual array of state news, national news, advertisement and sports but what made it unique was that the front page was always dedicated to stories about local and national Native American affairs.
Henry Charles Ashmun was married to Ella Marceau Ashmun. He was an active member of the Society of American Indians and attended the annual conference in Madison, where he registered himself as Chippewa. He used the Odanah Star as the official periodical used to convey the ideas of the Society of American Indians. Ashmun was very passionate about the conferences, fellow attendees and agenda of the SAI and because of his activism was appointed to the budget committee by the Society’s president, Sherman Coolidge. Around July 7, 1916, the Odanah Star could not stay afloat with its limited audience and so Ashmun reprinted the newspaper as the Ashland Chronicle. This only lasted 11 weeks before the paper completely collapsed, four years after it was established as the Star. During his life, Ashmun was an active proponent of the rights of Native Americans and continuously asserted their rights and independence through all his work.
Adapted from “Agitators and Evictions: Newspapers and the Lake Superior Chippewa in the ‘Un-Progressive’ Era,” by Patty Loew, 1998.
ELIZABETH G. BENDER was born around 1887 as a Chippewa Indian from the White Earth Reservation in Minnesota. She studied at the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in September 1903 through 1907. After she graduated she became a member of the Society of American Indians and a teacher for the Indian Service in the Black Feet reservation in Teton, Minnesota. She later entered a nursing program in Philadelphia where she met and married her husband, Henry Roe Cloud, in 1916. She returned to Hampton Institute to enter a Home Economics program during 1914-1915. Upon her completion at the Hampton Institute, Elizabeth and her husband founded an interdenominational college preparatory high school for young native men, the American Indian Institute. While teaching, she was very active in women’s groups including the Indian Welfare Committee, in which she was chair. In 1950 she was named National Mother of the Year. She was also appointed to serve on the National Child Welfare Committee and as chair of the General Federation of Women’s Clubs Indian Affairs Division.
ANGEL DECORA was born as Hinook-Mahiwi-Kalinaka, which means “Fleecy Cloud Floating in Place” or “Woman Coming on the Clouds in Glory” and roughly translates into the English “Angel.” She was born in Thurston, Nebraska, on May 3, 1871, from mixed decent. Her father was David Tall Decora, the son of the chief of the Winnebago tribe, and had some French ancestry. Her mother was a member of the LaMere family. DeCora is best known for being one of the few professional artists among Native American women and was a strong advocate for Native American rights.
DeCora left the reservation at age 12 to attend Hampton Institute and studied there for five years, where she was first exposed to art and music. After leaving Hampton, she was forced to return to Nebraska because of a government law that required Native American students to return to their homes after five years of boarding school. This time at home was very troubling for DeCora as her father and grandfather both passed away during her stay. In 1888, she returned to Hampton to finish her education and graduated in 1891. Her professors noticed her extensive talent in music and art and decided to send her to Miss Burnham’s Classical School for Girls and fund her course in the study of music. She became known for her talent in art as well as music and after completing her music courses decided to attend Smith College to further develop her artistic talent. DeCora then studied illustration at Drexel Institute in Philadelphia, where she wrote and illustrated two collections of stories of Native American children. After completing her two years at Drexel, DeCora moved to Cowles Art School to study life drawing and afterward went to the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. Studying with some of the leading artists of the day, she acquired the artistic as well as the English literacy of the dominant culture, but she focused her talents on representing American Indians, because she embraced her culture and felt that there was a lack of art that embodied American Indian life. DeCora was able to combine the European techniques she learned with her cultural practices.
DeCora finally completed her art education and became one of the most successful woman artists of the time. She hand-drew the lettering for every title page in The Indians Book, published in 1907, which contained an assembly of Native American songs written by Natalie Curtis.
DeCora participated in many exhibits of Native American art, opened her own studio in New York, spoke at conventions about her work, taught art at Carlisle Indian School and engaged with other Native American women artists to discuss their work. In 1911, she became a member of the Society of American Indians and spoke about “Native Indian art” during the Society’s first meeting in Columbus, Ohio. She was married to William (Lone Star) Dietz in 1908 but they divorced in 1918 with no known children. Few of her original works remain intact, but she left a legacy as a Native American woman, artist and educator.
FRANK S. GAUTHIER was chairman of the Menominee advisory board and worked as a translator. At the Society of American Indians meeting in 1914, Gauthier acted as a translator for a Menominee chief, describing his experiences and memories of the Civil War.
In the winter of 1932, he acted as a delegate to Washington, D.C., along with Ralph Fredenburg, the chairman of the Menominee business committee. As delegates, they worked for greater self-government for the Menominees, and they succeeded in the form of the Enabling Act. The following April, Gauthier was a speaker at a meeting regarding his work in Washington. The roundtable meeting celebrated the progress the Menominees had made in the self-government program that they had been working years for. Gauthier was recommended for a World Fair award “for achievement in advancing the welfare of the Indians.”
Gauthier was born in 1868 or 1869 and lived on the Menominee Indian Reservation in Keshena, Wisconsin. He and his wife Mary had two children a daughter and a son.
STEPHEN A. G. GROVER was the Chief of the Lac Courte Oreilles Band of Chippewa Indians in the early 20th century. Grover, who was married in July 1891 in Barron County, Wisconsin, was described as the “chief priest” of the Big Drum ceremony that took place at Whitefish, three miles west of the village of Reserve on the Lac Courte Oreilles reservation in July 1910. His aunt, also a head chief of the Chippewa band, had chosen him to stand in her father’s place as chief of the tribe. Grover was of mixed decent; his father was white and his mother was Native American. Grover had a strong belief in the Society of American Indians and its members and supported all of their endeavors. He attended the fourth conference in Madison and although he wasn’t able to attend the fifth conference, Grover’s father went in his place and brought with him a letter that Stephen had written to his comrades at the conference. In this passionate letter, he pleaded with the Society to help them recover lost townships that they been promised in a treaty with the government before the state of Wisconsin had sold it off to “white people.” Grover sent Mr. Ira Isham as a delegate from the reservation to speak on his behalf.
ALBERT W. HENSLEY was born in 1865. His mother died when he was very young. Hensley went to the care of his paternal grandmother until she passed away when he was five. His father then was responsible for his care, and is said to have worked the young boy very hard. They resided in Winnebago, Nebraska; Albert worked with his father until he was 16. Albert Hensley wanted to go to school, but his father was not fond of the idea. He eventually ran away to the Indian school in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, which shaped him into the man he was soon to become. He never had a chance to graduate, but while he was away he learned to be a steam-plumber. When he returned to Winnebago, he was offered the position of chief of police and he accepted it.
Hensley was an important figure in Winnebago. He is widely known for introducing Christianity to the Winnebago as a way to stop their ritual use of peyote. He married Martha Henry and they moved to a farm in Thurston, Nebraska, where they had five children. He eventually joined the Society of American Indians and attended many of its conferences. Hensley passed away in 1937 and is buried in Thurston County, Nebraska.
IRA O. ISHAM, also known as Chief Isham, was born in 1854 in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. The Isham family later moved to Rice Lake, where Isham’s father ran a trading post, and eventually moved to the Lac Courte Oreilles Reservation.
In 1874, Ira O. Isham married Mary Dingly, the daughter of Ed Dingly, a Civil War veteran. In Rice Lake, Isham was involved with a lumber business that employed many Natives Americans. He never attended school but was self-educated and served as the tribal interpreter for about 40 years. He also chaired the business committee. Chief Isham brought many reforms to the tribe.
Chief Isham and his wife had four sons and seven daughters. As he represented and interpreted for the tribe for most of his life, he made sure that Indian rights were upheld, notably in hearings on Indian Affairs regarding the buying and selling of lumber. Isham passed away on the reservation in 1928.
LAURA MINNIE CORNELIUS KELLOGG was born on the Oneida Reservation near Green Bay, Wisconsin. She was the daughter of Adam Poe Cornelius and Cecilia Bread Cornelius and came from a long line of Indian leaders. Her grandfather, Daniel Bread, was the head-chief of the Oneidas during their migration from New York to Wisconsin.
While growing up, Laura Cornelius Kellogg chose a different path from many in her generation. In 1890, she began her education at Grafton Hall, a mostly non-Indian school in Fond du Lac, rather than a distant Indian boarding school like many of the other children in her tribe. Later, she attended Barnard College, Cornell University, the New York School of Philanthropy, Stanford University, and the University of Wisconsin, although she never received a degree from any of these institutions.
As a founding member of the Society of American Indians (SAI), she served as the first secretary on the executive committee. SAI was a progressive organization devoted to the improvement of the conditions on reservations, such as health, education, civil rights and local government. Kellogg was one of the best linguists of her generation and so charismatic that she was given the nickname “Indian Princess.” As a public speaker, she encouraged Indian reform and spoke of the wisdom of Indian elders. While she was an excellent speaker, she was also confrontational, exotic, and misinterpreted. Kellogg was also a brilliant writer and wrote about Progressive Era reform through topics that included women’s rights and Indian issues. She was an author of fiction, plays, essays, poetry and speeches.
In 1912, she married Orrin Joseph Kellogg and had no children. After her marriage ended, she spent much of her time organizing an Iroquois land-claims suit. However, she was accused of illegally collecting money to fund the suit and was arrested in 1913 and again in 1925. She was never convicted, but the land-claim suit, Deere v. St. Lawrence River Power Company, was dismissed in 1927.
WILLIAM JOHN KERSHAW was the first vice president of the Society of American Indians and chairman of the Finance Committee. He was an assistant attorney general for the state of Wisconsin. He worked as an attorney in Milwaukee and was part Menominee on his mother’s side. Additionally, he was a member of the Milwaukee Bar Association, the Archaeological Society, and the Military Order of the Loyal Legion, which he inherited from his father who was an Irish immigrant and served twice in the Wisconsin Infantry in the Civil War, rising to major before a wound ended his military career.
Kershaw was born in Big Spring in Adams County, Wisconsin, in 1865 to William John Kershaw Sr. and Martha Mary (Corn) Kershaw. He began his education in the Adams County public schools and then attended St. Lawrence College and St. Francis Seminary. His mother passed away the year he was born, and his father died when Kershaw was 18. After college, he took a trip west, then worked in the northwoods for a year once he was back in Wisconsin. Next he began a machinist apprenticeship. After mastering the trade, he became interested in law, which was also his father’s profession prior to enlisting, and began studying under the guidance of W. C. Williams and August Weissert. Once he was admitted to the bar, he practiced under Weissert until 1892, when he became a junior member of the firm of Eschweiler, Van Valkenburgh & Kershaw. The following year he married Henrietta Schiller. Then in 1897 he left the firm to begin an independent practice in which he was very successful.
Through the Society of American Indians and his legal experience, Kershaw was an influential voice for the rights of Native Americans. He gave an address to the president of the United States entitled “The Red Man’s Appeal,” regarding the Carter code bill. He urged the president to lift outdated laws that restricted Indian opportunities, which he saw as especially important for the younger generation. He also gave a speech at meetings of the Kiwanis, Rotary, and Lions clubs about the American Constitution. He stated, “The future of the American government is safe as long as we are not misled to misusing the great power granted to the American people by the Constitution.” Besides these addresses, Kershaw also wrote a poem called “The Indian’s Salute to His Country,” which was printed in the Sheboygan Press. Kershaw died in 1956 at age 91.
SARA E. MALLON, a young Menominee Indian, played a role in the unveiling of a historic marker on October 7, 1914, during the conference of the Society of American Indians in Madison. A bronze tablet was unveiled, a gift from W. W. Warner, a member of the Wisconsin Archeological Society. It was placed on one of the prehistoric Indian mounds preserved on the crest of Vilas Park hill. The unveiling address was delivered by Charles Brown, and Rev. Henry Roe Cloud, a noted Winnebago speaker, gave the address of acceptance. Sara Mallon was married to Joseph J. Mallon and lived in Milwaukee.
JOHN NUWI was the last leader, landowner, and most famous resident of the largely Potawatomi village at Skunk Hill, near Arpin, Wisconsin, established in the early 20th century. Originally from a village in Milwaukee, he was the owner of five ceremonial drums, making him a very important regional figure in the Big Drum or Dream dance, a multi-tribal religious movement that began in the late 19th century and continues to this day. Nuwi assisted anthropologist Alanson Skinner in the Milwaukee Public Museum’s publication The Mascouten or Prairie Potawatomi, as he was regarded as very knowledgeable about Potawatomi culture and history. He would speak at the Society of American Indians meeting in Madison on the history and Potawatomi understanding of the Treaty of Chicago, signed between his people and the federal government in 1833.
DENNISON WHEELOCK of West DePere, Wisconsin, was a well-known Oneida music instructor and attorney. He was born in 1871 to James Wheelock and Sophie Doxtator. He graduated from the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania, extending his stay by becoming the bandleader for a decade. Following that he became a band conductor for the Haskell Institute in Kansas and the U.S. Indian Band, which performed all over the country, even in Carnegie Hall. In 1921 he organized the Oneida Indian Centennial celebration held at the Oshkosh fairgrounds. This event was meant to commemorate the Oneida arrival in Wisconsin from New York and recognize the achievements they had made. Wheelock also acted as director of the Oneida Indian Band as they performed at this event.
In addition to pursuing music as a career, Wheelock also had political and legal interests. In 1907 he began studying law at a firm in Baltimore. As an attorney, Wheelock often represented and worked for the benefit of Indians. In January 1917, he went to Washington, D.C., on behalf of the Potawatomi Indians of Arpin, Wisconsin, who claimed that the government owed the tribe unpaid annuities. Wheelock had won a similar case for the Stockbridge Indians of Lake Winnebago.
Along with Reginald Oshkosh, he was invited to speak at the third annual Wisconsin Birthday Banquet in Sheboygan in 1917. In his speech, he expressed his belief that Indians should have the same rights as other U.S. citizens, and that cultural segregation was preventing Indians from attaining the success they were capable of. Wheelock was considered for the position of Commissioner of Indian Affairs in 1920 and was mentioned as a possible candidate for a seat in Congress in 1922.
Wheelock married fellow Society of American Indians member Louise Wheelock, a Chippewa. They had a son and a daughter. Wheelock died in Washington, D.C., in 1927 at the age of 56. He was buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in DePere.
CHIEF WYESHKESIT (also spelled Wieskesit) was recognized as the head of the Menominee Thunder people, called Poekonah. The name means “falling feathers” and refers to the traditional idea of a change from bird to human form. This leadership was passed to him through Wiskeno, the son of a famous Poekonah who fought in the wars of 1812 and 1832 with a legendary skill in battle that led to him and his successors being referred to as the warriors of the tribe. Upon moving to the Zoar area in 1881, Wyeshkesit became leader of the Zoar community. Menominees there lived in a more traditional, conservative way.
Wyeshkesit took a seat on the Business Committee at the request of Oshkenaniew. This committee was formed to make decisions regarding the Menominee’s lumber business. Despite the culturally conservative Zoar people not being loggers themselves, though their land may have been good for it, it was important to have Wyeshkesit representing them. The politics of the logging business affected every member of the Menominee tribe. In 1894, the business committee decided that the revenue generated by the lumber business belonged to the Menominee tribe as a whole. This, and the fact that individual loggers sought community approval, speaks to the strength of the Menominee community. The Menominees, including Wyeshkesit, appointed Reginald Oshkosh to be manager of the lumber and logging business in 1912.