Each month of 2021 will contain a biographical sketch of someone who did things their own way, who lived their own iconoclastic life. Last month we looked at the audio obsessed OCD recluse lifestyle of David Wills, aka the Weatherman. This month we are going Native with Frances Slocum, Maconaquah.
(If you are interested in the background of WHY I am writing these notes on American weirdos you can read this post by John Michael Greer on Johnny Appleseed's America.)
Before we look at the life of the lady who came to be known as Little Bear, I want to start with some quotes from an essay by John Michael Greer where he explores the idea that the very landscape we live in effects our consciousness. Each land mass has its own effect and the land mass of North America has a particular flavor. He writes:
"Carl Jung, while traveling in America, happened to see workers streaming out of a factory. To his European eye, many members of the crowd looked distinctly Native American, and he was startled when his host insisted there was probably not one Native American there. Both men were correct. The land—any land—puts its stamp on the bodies, the actions, and the thoughts of the people who are born and raised there; the American who tries to be European has been a butt of edged humor in Europe for centuries now, because the result always rings false to European ears."
He then goes on to discuss how "because of this imprint, reflected in details of history and culture" it's possible to get a glimpse of a future great culture and civilization that will take shape here in America.
"The first stirrings of the American great culture are fainter at this point—not surprising, as its flowering will likely be quite a bit further in the future, and we have a second pseudomorphosis to get through first. One measure of that faintness is that there isn’t yet a good clear English word for the theme that already differentiates American culture from those of other societies. Since the land keeps radiating its basic influence while peoples come and go, I’ll borrow a term from Chinook jargon—the old trade language of the northwest quarter or so of native North America, which was once spoken from northern California to Alaska and from the Pacific Ocean to the eastern slopes of the Rockies—and speak of tamanous.
Tamanous—that’s pronounced “tah-MAN-oh-oose,” by the way—is the guardian spirit of the individual, and also his luck and his destiny. In a great many Native American cultures, finding and establishing a sacred relationship with one’s tamanous, via various traditional practices, is the primary religious act a person can engage in, an essential part of achieving adulthood and thus something that most people do as a matter of course. The result is a religious vision unlike any other, in which the personal relationship between the individual and an equally unique and individualized spiritual power takes center stage."
-John Michael Greer, America and Russia, Tamanous and Sobornost
This process of going Native here in America has long been underway. When colonists first arrived however, and long into the 18th and 19th centuries sometimes the person who went Native didn't have much of a choice about it. Aside from the ethical considerations of kidnapping people and making them part of your tribe, it cannot be denied that this has been part of the American experience. Some of those who were kidnapped, taken by force from their birth family, made the most out of an ordeal that often began in violence. These people, assimilated into Native tribes, have much to teach those of us who hear the call of this land that is America.
Frances Slocum (March 4, 1773 – March 9, 1847) who became Ma-con-na-quah, "Young Bear" or "Little Bear" was one such woman, an adopted member of the Miami people. Her story began in Warwick, Rhode Island, and ended in Indiana. At the age of four her family left New England for the Wyoming Valley of Luzerne County, Pennsylvania.
The area had already been occupied since time out of mind by the Americans who were already Native. Several historical tribes including the Susquehannock, whose tongue was the Iroquoian language, and the Delaware, whose tongue was Algonquian, had made it a home.
In the mid-18th century settlers primarily from England ventured into the valley. Some came to do that most questionable of religious services -"missionary work"- i.e., convert the Indians from what these Christians though was their barbaric beliefs over to the sane and civilized thought systems of their own ways of life.
Others simply wanted to farm the fertile land near the Susquehanna River and escape the freaks back home they'd been trying to get away from in the first place -often for their own religious freedom and liberty. Then the French and Indian War broke out and its violence drove the settlers away for a time.
The colonies and colonists were often as much at odds with each other as they were with the people they were displacing. The colony of Pennsylvania and Connecticut both said the Wyoming Valley was their own -irrespective of the ancient culture already on the land. One faction was at the throat of another. They were at the throats of one another in a series of skirmishes known as the Pennamite-Yankee Wars. The Connecticut contingent returned to the valley to settle the town of Wilkes-Barre in 1769. Yet armed bands of Pennamites were already there and took issue with the interlopers.Physical violence continued as the Revolutionary War itself broke out. United against the common enemy of the oppressive mother country, they still fought among themelves until the disputes were settled in 1780.
It was in the time of tumult that Slocum family skittered off to Luzerne County in 1777. Frances was just five years old. They had survived much of the previous violence in the area, and thought God, their Quaker beliefs, their pacifism, and the friendly relations they had with the Natives would protect them from harm. Many other souls with less courage, and perhaps less faith or foolishness, had fled during the Battle of Wyoming in July 1778, when British soldiers, allied with Seneca warriors destroyed Forty Fort near Wilkes-Barre. More than three hundred American settlers were killed in the fight.
On November 2nd, 1778, three Delaware warriors captured her at their farm in Wilkes-Barre. The father Jonathan was away when three Delaware warriors attacked the Slocum family farm near Wilkes-Barre. Mother Ruth and eight of her ten kids escaped into the forest. But the Delaware captured five-year-old Frances in their raid, along with her brother Ebenezer who was disabled. They also snatched Wareham Kingsley, a young boy whose family was living on the Slocum farm. The Delaware didn't end up keeping Ebenezer, but the other two were taken and Frances never did see her folks again. A little over a month later the natives killed her father and grandfather. Her mother Ruth who died died in 1807 never stopped believing that one day her daughter would be found.
Frances was given to a Delaware chief and his wife who were childless. They named her after their own youngest daughter, who had died, Weletasash. Frances recalled in her later years how the group she was with migrated from the Niagra Falls area, to Detroit, and then ended up near Fort Wayne, Indiana in what they called Kekionga.
Frances got married the first time between 1791 and 1792 but returned to live with her parents due to domestic violence. She met her second husband when she found him injured in the woods. She brought him home and her parents helped him get well and back into shape.
He was know as She-pan-can-ah, Deaf Man, because he couldn't hear. A strong warrior, Shepancanah later became a Miami chief. The pair had four children together. Their two sons died young. They also had two daughters, Kekenakushwa or Cut Finger and Ozahshinquah or Yellow Leaf. Marrying into the Miami Frances adopted another name, Maconaquah or Little Bear.
After the War of 1812 they settled along the Mississinewa River near Peru, Indiana. The next 23 years are a blank as far as the historical record goes. Yet in 1835 she shared some of her story with a visiting trader named Colonel George Ewing: the fact that she was a white woman who had been taken as a child.
Ewing was a fluent speaker of the Miami tongue. She spoke no English at this time but remembered her family's name was Slocum and that they had been Quakers who lived along the Susquehanna River.
When Ewing met Slocum she was a widow living with her extended family at Deaf Man's village. The small enclave consisted of a double log cabin with two or three cabins attached to it, a corn crib, a stable, and outbuildings for livestock. Living with her were her two daughters, Ozahshinquah (Yellow Leaf), a young widow, and Kekenakushwa (Cut Finger), Slocum's eldest daughter; Kekenakushwa's husband, Tanquakeh, a métis named Jean Baptiste Brouillette; three grandchildren; and an elderly relative.
Ewing took her story back out into the world and tried to locate her relatives. He sent a letter to the postmaster at Lancaster, PA and aske about the Slocum family and if they had a relative who had been kidnapped during the Revolutionary War. The letter never made it to its intended recipient, but was discovered two years later at which point it was published in the Lancaster Intelligencer. A minister from the Wyoming Valley read the news and passed it along to Joseph Slocum, her Brother who then got in contact with Ewing.
In September of 1837 Joseph, his brother Isaac and sister Mary traveled with interpreters to Peru, Indiana to meet their long lost sibling. Having confirmed her as their sister, they offered to take her back with them, but she had grown up with the Delaware and the Miami and the Indian way of life was what she knew and was accustomed. At this point she also had a family of her own. She spoke no English and had forgotten her given name was Frances. She had been fully assimilated into the life of the tribe. But it was a reunion and they got to meet their nieces and her son-in-law on their visit, and she got to see her brothers and sisters.
The village Little Bear had lived in with Deaf Man was a kind of crossroads for the multicultural American experience. Their family was not in any way the only one to be mixed racially and culturally. African-American's had also mixed with the tribe and been assimilated and lived nearby.
At the time the U.S. Government was working on removing Indians from their land and resettling them in Kansas and other points west. The Miami were coerced to sign treaties in 1838 and 1840 that forced the Miami community in Indiana to consider moving west. All but a small portion of their remaining tribal lands in Indiana were ceded to the federal government, and in 1840 they agreed to move across the Mississippi River within five years.
Yet another deal was made in 1838. Three years after she came out as white a new treaty was made for some Miami families with individual land grants that would allow them to remain in Indiana. Among the recipients were Ozahshinquah and Kekenakushwa , her two daughters, who together received 640 acres of land, exempting them from the removal to Kansas Territory. Little Bear was recognized as the head of the family at this time, but was not named in the land grant.
As the knowledge of her being white spread in the community it encouraged those who had been able to stay in Indiana to mask their Indian identity and try to pass. This strategy was emboldened by the political maneuverings of Miami Chief Francis Godfroy.
Godfroy was born at Little Turtle's village (Fort Wayne) in 1788, son of a French trader and Miami woman. He ended up becoming a key figure in helping to keep some of the Miami people on Indiana land as a tribe through his landholdings and the leadership of his descendants. His treaty grant for the land around Mount Pleasant became a refuge for Miamis without land who had come home from Kansas after returning from Kansas after their removal in 1846.
On March 3, 1845, the United States Congress passed the joint resolution that exempted Slocum and twenty-one of her Miami relatives from removal to Kansas Territory. Her Miami relations in Indiana were among the 148 individuals who formed the nucleus of the present-day Miami Nation of Indiana.
On March 3, 1845, the United States Congress passed the joint resolution that exempted Little Bear and twenty-one of her Miami relatives from removal to Kansas Territory. Her Miami relations in Indiana were among the 148 individuals who formed the nucleus of the present-day Miami Nation of Indiana.
The rest of the reservation land of the Miami’s in Indiana was ceded to the feds in 1846. Six months before Little Bear's death a major removal of more than 300 Miami began at Peru. A smaller group was removed in 1847. All told, it was less than half the Miami tribe that got removed, and more than half that either returned to Indiana or were never made to leave under the terms of the treaties.
She died at age 74 of pneumonia at Deaf Man's village. The graves were later moved when the Wabash dam was built, flooding their old home.
Little Bear's grandson, Camillus Bundy was born in 1854, son of Ozashinquah. He was a shaman who knew the old rituals and traditions, the use of plants and other Miami lore. He was known as a gifted storyteller and farmer. He became the chief after his father. He lived most of his life on the reservation land and cared for the grave of his grandmother. He taught what he knew to his sons Charles Z and David Bondy. He also became
the tribal attorney in charge of contacting Washington in with regards to the Eastern Miami's first formal pursuit of claims.
The Eastern Miami were bringing forward claims in regards to illegally collected taxes by the State of Indiana on Tribal Reserves. Camillus Bundy called together the Miami to discuss general claims and the future of the tribe. On September 23, 1923 60 to 80 people attended the meeting that is seen as the beginning of what is now the Miami Nation of Indiana. In 1930, at the age of 75, Camillus Bundy retired from actively pursuing Miami claims. Pimyotamah passed away in January of 1935.
A Brief Sideshow in Peru, Indiana
The town of Peru itself also forms an interesting nexus for this story, and I hope to visit it myself, especially during the "circus days".
Peru, Indiana was the winter headquarters of many major circuses of the time, and is recognized as the circus capital of the world. It all started in 1884 when the Wallace Company started out, with Peru as it's base. Benjamin Wallace was livery owner in Peru who took a chance on starting his own show when he bought a few rail cars worth of circus equipment. He called his entertainment the Wallace and Company’s Great World Menagerie, Grand International Mardi Gras, Highway Holiday Hidalgo and Alliance of Novelties. His show was a success and the name became simplified after he purchased the Hagenbeck Circus and it became the Hagenbeck-Wallace Circus.
With his show wheeling out from Peru every spring, and returning in the winter, Peru became a locus for wayward clowns, trapeze artists, and anyone with a gimmick or a schtick. Buffalo Bill's Wild West show made use of the Winter Quarters Wallace had built. There were huge barns for elephants and other exotic animals. There was even a hospital on the grounds, amidst all the other outbuildings and bric-a-brac of circus life. Lion tamers and animal trainers such as Clyde Beatty who came to the circus in the 20th century also made it a home. Beatty's great granddaugther Tarrin Cooper lives in Peru and does the occassional roadshow highwire act. Many of the Miami Indians in the area found work with the circuses there.
In the summer Peru was quiet without all the circus folk around, but come fall they'd be back. The musicians treated the townies with the song of “Back Home Again in Indiana” from the high pitched steam calliope. The last commercial steam calliope builder in the world, David Morecraft, opened up shop in Peru in 1985 to keep these instruments and tradition alive. His calliopes are featured in the annual circus festival and parade there in July. One of the festival’s largest calliope is called the Gentry. It was built in Cincinnati in the 1920s and is housed in a circus wagon made in Peru in 1901. The whole contraption now gets hauled on the bed of a 1949 Ford pickup.
The Ringling Brothers swooped into Peru and the circus community became there circus community. Like everywhere else in the Great Depression the town took a big hit and in 1941 the doors to the Winter Quarters closed, but the freaks. In a desperate act to save space and money on maintenance the circus wagons were burned. Even as the old dream of the circus life died there in town, many of the freaks and carnie types couldn't leave and so joined the world of everyday people they had once entertained. Thus it is that in Peru a high concentration of people with the circus in their blood live to this day.
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Justin Patrick Moore
Husband. Father/Grandfather. Writer. Green wizard. Ham radio operator (KE8COY). Electronic musician. Library cataloger.