Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Indian Summer (Graves)

I don't even know if its politically correct to call it "Indian Summer" anymore! (Do kids play 'Cowboys and Native Americans' these days?) So here it is, Columbus Day, almost mid-October, and its 85 degrees in Philadelphia! The tomato plants in my garden are still putting out, yet the osage oranges are beginning to fall in St. Peter's Churchyard cemetery! (Osage oranges, or 'hedge apples' are baseball-sized citrus-y pounders that do a bit of damage when they fall out of the trees.)

Columbus Memorial, South Phill
I started thinking about Indians today, which is what Christopher Columbus called them when he hit the shores of the Americas, thinking he had landed in India (get it, Indie-ans...?). Columbus carried with him a passport from Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain, written in Latin and dispatching him "toward the regions of India" on their behalf (ref). My friend Tom asked me today if I knew how you're supposed to celebrate Columbus Day. He said, "Walk into somebody's home and say, 'I live here now.'"

Osage orange
As there are no Indian graves nearby for me to photograph on this Indian Summer day, I did the next best thing. I went to the St. Peter's Churchyard cemetery in Philadelphia (3rd and Pine Streets) and photographed the "Tribal Chieftains 1793" sign you see above.

St. Peter's Church, est. 1791

I had originally read about the story in Tom Keel's book, Philadelphia Graveyards and Cemeteries, and was kind of surprised to actually see more evidence of it on a sign in the graveyard itself. In our continued effort to take land away from the Native Americans, the late 1700s saw pioneering expansion of the land west of the Ohio River. Several Indian tribes from the area were, naturally, against it.

Excerpt from sign in st. Peter's Cemetery
In the summer of 1793, U.S. President George Washington invited all the tribal chiefs from the region to Philadelphia (then the capital of the country) to discuss a treaty and "negotiate." In the meantime, Washington had Revolutionary War General "Mad" Anthony Wayne assemble a highly trained army to fight the area's Indians and take the land. In an amazing coincidence, during Washington's "peace" negotiations, all eight chiefs contracted smallpox, died, and were buried in unmarked graves in St. Peter's churchyard. Without their leaders, all the tribes were easily defeated at the Battle of Fallen Timbers a few months later in 1794. Gee, that's pretty sickening, don't you think? I don't believe I'll call it Indian Summer anymore.

Here's how the sign in St. Peter's Cemetery tells the story:
"In January of 1793, a delegation of tribal chieftains from what are now Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Michigan arrived in Philadelphia, the U.S. capital. The Indians had been invited by President George Washington to a Peace Council to resolve boundary disputes in the newly created Northwest Territory. No agreement was reached at this time and war followed. The Indians were defeated at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794." (ref.)
Godd ol' USAir flying over 'our' amber waves of grain.

References and Further Readings: 

Does "Indian" derive from Columbus's description of Native Americans? 
St. Peter's Church, Philadelphia, PA 
Find A Grave site related to the seven Indian Chiefs in St. Peter's Cemetery smallpox
Philadelphia Graveyards and Cemeteries, by Tom Keels

The Divided Ground: Indians, Settlers, and the Northern Borderland of the American Revolution (text)

The Divided Ground: Indians, Settlers, and the Northern Borderland of the American Revolution (book)