Friday, April 02, 2010

The Great Treaty: A Priceless Document Burned in Oklahoma in April 1861

It was my privilege Friday to enjoy lunch with Kerry Holton, President of the Delaware Nation, and his mother, Helen Holton. The Delawares, also known as the Lenape Indians, played a prominent role in United States history. Chief Tammany of the Delawares met with William Penn in 1682 and the agreement between them, called "The Great Treaty," showed the world that whites and Indians could live together in peace and harmony. The city built on the spot of that agreement and named in its honor was Philadelphia--"the city of brotherly love." Voltaire called it "the only treaty never sworn to and never broken." The stone relief, pictured left, portrays the agreement between the Delawares and Penn and is found in the famous frieze of history in the United States Capital. The document held in the left hand of William Penn is "The Great Treaty" itself, given to the Delawares to seal Penn's resolution "to live justly, peaceably, and friendly with you."

Americans idolized Chief Tammany for his peaceful spirit, wisdom, and willingness to co-exist with colonists, and "Tammany Societies" cropped up all over the colonies in honor of Chief Tammany. These political activists cherished justice, liberty and freedom, and would often dress up as Chief Tammany when going to their meetings. One of these Tammany Societies in Boston, on the night of their weekly meeting (December 16, 1773), decided to go to the harbor and dump out the tea from British cargo ships in protest of the aggressive British taxes without corresponding American representation in parliament. Thus, contrary to some historians, the Boston Tea Party was not an attempt by Americans to blame the Indians, but freedom loving Americans who were honoring Chief Tammany and his principles of freedom and justice through non-violent protests by simply wearing the Indian garb they always wore at the Tammany Society Meetings. Eventually, Tammany Societies, deteriorated into political machines like the one in New York (Tammany Hall) and controlled the Democratic Party and all political appointments.

My lunch guests are descendents of Tammany and the great Delaware scout Black Beaver. Black Beaver, a captain in the United States army and one of the most heroic men in American history, guided Union Troops out of Indian Territory (Oklahoma) at the beginning of the Civil War (April 27-May 20, 1861). Abraham Lincoln needed these experienced, professional troops in Indian Territory for the war back east. The United State soldiers had entered Indian Territory through Arkansas, a state now in Confederate hands, so to make their way back east they had to avoid the Confederates and travel north to Kansas through untraversed Indian Territory. This land in northern Oklahoma was controlled by the Cherokees and other tribes sympathetic to the Confederacy. The Delaware Indian scout, Black Beaver, who was 55 at the time and retired from military service, agreed to guide the soldiers, civilians and support personnel out of Indian Territory. He succeeded in getting nearly one thousand U.S. troops to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, many of whom became Generals in the Union Army during the next four years. Black Beaver was later given The Peace Medal by the President of the United States for his efforts in support of the Union. When the Confederates found out what Black Beaver had done, they burned his house and his crops. After the Civil War, Black Beaver returned to his home to find he had lost everything.

But the one thing I learned at lunch Friday that startled me is what was lost in April 1861 when Black Beaver's house (near Anadarko, Oklahoma) was burned to the ground. Helen Holton, Black Beaver's great-great- grandaughter said Black Beaver was tremendously grieved because he had been given the responsibility of caring for "The Great Treaty" that William Penn had given to Chief Tammany. Tammany had given it to an honored Delaware for safe keeping. The treaty was then passed down for generations, kept as the most treasured possession of the Delaware people. Again, the document in question is shown in the stone relief above as being held in the left hand of William Penn. It had been cherished by the Delawares for a total of  one hundred and eighty years. But when Black Beaver's house burned, "The Great Treaty" burned with it.

I can't help but wonder two things:

(1). How much would "The Great Treaty" be worth today if it were still in existence?
(2). How many other documents of historic value are lost for all time through the devilish actions of mankind?

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson

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