The other day, while reading an article about notable Native Americans, I came across a name that was familiar to me, but really didn’t seem like a Native American name. The name was Renville, the same name as my grand-nephew, James Renville. Immediately, I wondered if there might be a connection between Chief Gabriel Renville and my grand-nephew. The search didn’t take very long, before I had my answer. Gabriel Renville is my grand-nephew, James’ 1st cousin 7 times removed. I find that to be extremely amazing to think that James is related to an Indian chief. With that information, I wanted to fine out more abut this man.
Chief Gabriel Renville was a mixed-blood Santee Sioux—his father was half French and his mother half-Scottish. He was born in April of 1825 at Big Stone Lake, South Dakota. Renville was the treaty chief of the Sisseton-Wahpeton Santee tribes and signed the 1867 treaty, which established the boundaries of the Lake Traverse Reservation. One source called him a Champion of Excellence.
He was careful to protect his people as much as he could, and was also instrumental in saving the lives of many white captives. During the 1862 Uprising, Renville opposed Little Crow and was influential in keeping many of the Santee out of the war. He lost a large amount of property, including horses appropriated by the hostile savages, or destroyed in consequence of his position to their murderous course. Renville served as chief of scouts for General Sibley during the campaign against the Sioux in 1863.
Even though Chief Renville was an ally of the whites, it didn’t help him when he settled on the reservation. The government agent there, Moses N. Adams, considered him hostile. Renville was the leader of the “scout party” which was in conflict with the “good church” Indians. I’m sure that was common in those days. Renville preserved many of the traditional Santee customs of polygamy and dancing, and he ignored Christianity, but he was not opposed to economic progress and he and his followers became successful farmers on the reservation. However, the Sisseton agent favored the “church” Indians.
Renville and other leaders of the traditional Indians accused Adams of discriminating against them in the disposition of supplies and equipment. He said Adams favored the idle church-goers instead of encouraging them to work….a situation not unlike the current welfare system. Agent Adams considered Renville a detriment and removed the chief form the reservation executive board which Adams had organized to carry out his policies. It was a move that was considered extreme. In 1874 Renville was finally successful in securing a government investigation of the Adam’s activities. The outcome of the investigation was an official censure of Adams. Chief Renville continued to practice the old Santee customs, yet he encouraged the Indians to farm. This progressive influence was greatly missed after his death in August 1892.
When a construction project begins, it usually takes a matter of a few months to complete. That is not how it works when carving a large sculpture, such as Mount Rushmore. Mount Rushmore National Memorial is a sculpture carved into the granite face of Mount Rushmore, a batholith in the Black Hills in Keystone, South Dakota, United States. It was the vision of Doane Robinson, who thought that carving the faces of famous people in the Granite of the Black Hills region, would bring tourists to the region. Robinson’s vision has proven to be an amazing success. His original idea was to put the sculpture in the area of the Needles, but the chosen sculptor, Gutzon Borglum rejected the idea because of the poor quality of the granite, and strong opposition from the Native American Groups in the area. I’m glad it didn’t go in the needles area, because they have a beauty all their own, and it would have been a shame to change them.
They settled on Mount Rushmore, which also has the advantage of facing southeast for maximum sun exposure, which makes the faces of our presidents stand out in an amazing way. Robinson wanted it to feature American West heroes like Lewis and Clark, Red Cloud, and Buffalo Bill Cody, but Borglum decided the sculpture should have broader appeal and chose the four presidents. Borglum created the sculpture’s design and oversaw the project’s execution from 1927 to 1941 with the help of his son, Lincoln Borglum. When I think of the years it too to complete the sculpture, I wonder if it was what was expected, or just the way it came down. Mount Rushmore features 60-foot sculptures of the heads of four United States presidents…George Washington (1732–1799), Thomas Jefferson (1743–1826), Theodore Roosevelt (1858–1919), and Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865). After securing federal funding through the enthusiastic sponsorship of “Mount Rushmore’s great political patron” US Senator Peter Norbeck, construction on the memorial began in 1927, and the presidents’ faces were completed between 1934 and 1939. Upon Gutzon Borglum’s death in March 1941, his son Lincoln Borglum took over as leader of the construction project. Each president was originally to be depicted from head to waist.
The memorial park covers 1,278.45 acres and is 5,725 feet above sea level, and while the sculpture work officially ended on October 31, 1941, due to lack of funding and the very real possibility of a United States entrance into World War II. Mount Rushmore has become an iconic symbol of the United States, and it has appeared in works of fiction, as well as being discussed or depicted in other popular works. It has also been featured a number of movies. It attracts over two million visitors annually. It’s amazing to me that what started out to be a tourist attraction, quickly became a must see place for every patriotic American. My husband and I love to go to the Black Hills, and with the close proximity to our Casper, Wyoming home, we take a week every summer to go and enjoy the beauty and patriotism that now resides there.
As Americans began to expand to the West, new territories had to be opened for settlement. Of course, this was not always met with approval from the Indian nations who were living there at the time. Nevertheless, the settling of this nation would not be stopped, and while it was handled wrong in many ways, it was inevitable. Nearly two million acres of land in Oklahoma Territory had been preciously deemed unsuitable for white settlement, and so were given to the Native Americans who had been previously removed from their traditional lands to allow for white settlement. The relocations began in 1817. By the 1880s, Indian Territory was home to a variety of tribes, including the Chickasaw, Choctaw, Cherokee, Creek, Cheyenne, Comanche, and Apache.
By the 1890s, with the improvements in agricultural and ranching techniques led some white Americans to realize that the Indian Territory land could be valuable, so they began to pressure the United States government to allow white settlement in the region. In 1889, President Benjamin Harrison agreed, making the first of a long series of authorizations that eventually removed most of Indian Territory from Indian control. To begin the process of white settlement, President Harrison chose to open a 1.9 million acre section of Indian Territory that the government had never assigned to any specific tribe. I suppose it was a way to ease into it without taking land from any specific tribe…initially anyway. However, subsequent openings of sections that were designated to specific tribes were achieved primarily through the Dawes Severalty Act of 1887, which allowed whites to settle large swaths of land that had previously been designated to specific Indian tribes.
On March 3, 1889, Harrison announced the government would open the 1.9 million-acre tract of Indian Territory for settlement precisely at noon on April 22, 1889. Anyone could join the race for the land, but no one was supposed to jump the gun. With only seven weeks to prepare, the land-hungry Americans quickly began to gather around the borders of the irregular rectangle of territory. They were referred to as “Boomers,” and by the appointed day more than 50,000 hopefuls were living in tent cities on all four sides of the territory. At precisely high noon, thousands of would-be settlers make a mad dash into the newly opened Oklahoma Territory to claim cheap land. I can only imagine the chaos. The events that day at Fort Reno on the western border were typical of the entire process. At 11:50am, soldiers called for everyone to form a line. When the hands of the clock reached noon, the cannon of the fort boomed, and the soldiers signaled the settlers to start. With the crack of hundreds of whips, thousands of Boomers streamed into the territory in wagons, on horseback, and on foot. All told, from 50,000 to 60,000 settlers entered the territory that day. By nightfall, they had staked thousands of claims either on town lots or quarter section farm plots. Towns like Norman, Oklahoma City, Kingfisher, and Guthrie sprang into being almost overnight.
An extraordinary display of both the pioneer spirit and the American lust for land, the first Oklahoma land rush was also plagued by greed and fraud. Cases involving “Sooners,” who were people who had entered the territory before the legal date and time overloaded courts for years to come. I’m sure that the Indians weren’t pleased either, and I would imagine that there was periodic trouble over the whole process too. The government attempted to improve the operations of subsequent runs by adding more controls, finally adopting a lottery system to designate claims. By 1905, white Americans owned most of the land in Indian Territory. Two years later, the area once known as Indian Territory entered the Union as a part of the new state of Oklahoma.
When I think of a lost people, I think of a tribe in Africa or somewhere very isolated, but I never think of someplace in America! Nevertheless, it happened right here in America. Of course, it was a long…long time ago. It was long before people could easily track someone down. The year was 1587, the day was July 22. That was the day when the new colony arrived in Roanoke, North Carolina, which was colonial Virginia. On August 18, 1587, the first English baby to be born in the Americas, Virginia Dare was born. The group had been dispatched by Sir Walter Raleigh, and was led by John White, who by the way, was Virginia Dare’s grandfather. Upon their arrival, they found nothing of the English garrison that had gone ahead, except one skeleton. The people really didn’t want to stay there after that, but the fleet commander, Simon Fernandez would not let them return to the ship, and the ships sailed with the promise of new supplies to come.
John White was not allowed to stay, and so returned to England on August 27, 1587…vowing to return in three months time. That was about the time of the Spanish Armada attack in 1588, which delayed White’s return to Roanoke. White tried desperately to return to the little colony for the next three years. When he was finally able to get there, he came rushing onshore, only to find that the colony was gone. Among those missing was the little girl, Virginia Dare, White’s granddaughter. They had arrived on what would have been her third birthday…August 15. Whites return was delayed because of the Anglo-Spanish war, and the Spanish ships that robbed the expedition of the supplies they were taking over to the colonists. It is suspected that the colony disappeared during that war, but there is no clear clarification as to where they went or who took them.
There has been much speculation as to the fate of the Roanoke Lost Colony, but the sure fate of the settlers left behind is unknown and the colony is known as the “Lost Colony” of Roanoke to this day. Over the years numerous attempts have been made to find the Lost Colony, including the Lost Colony DNA Project started in 2005. Recent investigations speculate that the Lost Colony relocated to where the Chowan River meets the Albemarle Sound in present day Bertie County, North Carolina. Nevertheless, recent discoveries found European objects in the Hatteras Island area, including a sword hilt, broken English bowls, and a fragment of a slate writing tablet still inscribed with a letter. These could point to the presence of the colonists on Hatteras Island, some 50 miles southeast of their settlement on Roanoke Island. There were also some found at a site on the mainland 50 miles to the northwest. Some people have thought that the Native Americans took the people or at least assimilated them into their tribe, because there are in some of that modern day tribe of people with strangely gray eyes. I suppose we will never really know the reality of what happened, but I would rather think that the Native Americans took them in, than to think that they were killed.
I have often wondered what our nation looked like before the Native Americans altered the landscape with the only way they really had of clearing the land…fire. When the summer grasslands would grow so tall that it made travel by horse or on foot troublesome, the Indians just started a fire to clear the area. Since there was nothing standing in the way of the fire, it ran until it came to a river or some other kind of obstacle, such as an area void of vegetation, and then it simply burned itself out. Of course, rain or snow would have the same effect too. I wonder, like many other people do, if prior to that practice, there were forests where we now have plains.
Of course, the White Man, has come a long way in trying to bring trees back into our nation, but there are still many places that are just wide open spaces filled with prairie grass, sagebrush, and cactus. When my grandparents, Anna and Allen Spencer decided to move to Texas to check out the booming oil industry, they found a land that seemed to run for hundreds of miles, with little to see, but wide open spaces. Like many people, they longed for trees, and other vegetation to give a different view to the land they found themselves living on. Having lived on five acres myself for a number of years before moving into town, I can certainly understand wanting trees. That didn’t make it easy to grow any of them up to much size, however. I suppose it might have been easier in Texas, due to their warmer climate.
I understand the need Native Americans had to clear the land, and the lack of sufficient tools to do so, when it was necessary. Nevertheless, I wish they had not burned down the trees…or the prairies, because that stopped the young trees from growing, and lets face it…we need trees for shade, and the very air we breathe. These days, with all the necessary tools, from lawnmowers to farm equipment, there is no need to burn down the prairie grass to keep it from getting so deep, so clearing the land is a much smoother project. The older I get, the more I find myself wanting trees around me, and while it is still hard to get them up to some size, due mainly to the deer that roam freely inside the city limits of Casper, Wyoming, I do have some volunteer Silver Birch trees that have moved themselves from the neighbors tree into our yard.
We were so excited when the first tree started coming up, but our neighbor, Bill thought we would be upset about the little trespassing trees, and so he cut the down…until we told him that we wanted them. Then he left them alone so we could decide to let them grow or not. That first tree is now taller that our house, and we have several in the back yard too. Before these trees began growing, we had three cedar bushes in our front yard, one that was let grow to the size of a rather ugly tree. Finally, the day came that we got one of those little trespassing trees to come up in the right place. While we liked the bushes, that ugly Cedar tree needed to go. Then that tree got to an area where it could work for what we wanted. This past summer, it had grown to the point of being about my height. Life was good. We cut down that ugly Cedar bush that had been pretending to be a tree, and watch with excitement as our new little trespassing tree grew and flourished…and then it happened. The deer that I love to have in our yard, because they are so beautiful…decided that our little tree was just the right size for lunch. It’s hard to say if it will come back in the spring, but if not, there will be another little trespasser to grow in its place…life is still good!!!