Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Native Studies

A Tutelo Heritage: An Ethnoliterary Assessment of Chief Samuel Johns' Correspondence with Dr. Frank G. Speck

Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Native Studies

A Tutelo Heritage: An Ethnoliterary Assessment of Chief Samuel Johns' Correspondence with Dr. Frank G. Speck

Article excerpt

Abstract / Résumé

During the mid 1930s, Chief Samuel Johns entered into a brief correspondence with the noted anthropologist Dr. Frank G. Speck. Examining this correspondence, this essay gives interpretation to the ethno-literary considerations manifest in the Johns' letters.

Vers le milieu des années 1930, le chef Samuel Johns a correspondu brièvement avec l'anthropologue renommé Frank G. Speck. Le présent article examine la correspondance des deux hommes et donne une interprétation des éléments ethno-littéraires manifestes dans les lettres du chef Johns.

Obscured in the miasma of internecine warfare with an aggressive and expansive Iroquois Confederacy, there remains little ethnographical literature for the Tutelo Indians of Monascane, central Virginia. Within the Frank G. Speck papers archived at the American Philosophical Society, there is, however, an intriguing correspondence from a Native Elder living on the Six Nations Reserve near Brantford, Ontario. During the mid 1930s, Chief Samuel Johns entered into a brief correspondence with the noted University of Pennsylvania anthropologist, Dr. Frank Gouldsmith Speck. Johns initially wrote Speck from Middlemass, Ontario on September 4, 1934. In his first letter, Johns revealed his Tutelo ancestry and requested historical information regarding the tribe. On December 31, 1934, Johns again wrote Speck informing him of historical findings that report the Tutelo country along the east branch of the Susquehanna River near present day Athens, Pennsylvania. Subsequently on January 8, 1935, Johns, apparently replied to Speck, informing him of some Tutelo tradition and requesting that he visit the reserve during "the balmy month of May." Finally on June 2, 1935, Johns responded to Speck with arrangements for his visit, including dinner plans. There is also a curious decline from Johns to "write up a short history of our people...on the reserve," although he immediately recants and offers to give it a try. Given Johns interest in the Tutelo, then surely this reference to "our people on the reserve" implicates the history of the Tutelo among the Six Nations at Grand River.1

While these letters of Chief Johns reveal an interesting insight into the enduring complexity of American Indian identity,2 in this essay, I offer the letters for review and explore the literary and humanistic qualities of this correspondence. In this ethnocritical assessment of these letters, there are five themes that merit our consideration. These include an assessment of oral tradition, a Native kinship ethos, socio-cultural traditions, Tutelo history, and the Native regard for anthropology specifically Dr. Frank Speck as anthropologist.

Although Speck gave considerable effort to recording Tutelo traditions,3 there remains the question of a Tutelo history. While this essay cannot begin to recreate that history given its purpose of assessing the ethnoliterary characteristics of the Johns' letters, there are compelling reasons to investigate the concerns raised by Chief Johns. Particularly significant are the historical ties of the Tutelo to Virginia and their tribal migration to Ontario. It is to these ends that I will attempt to address Chief Johns' inquiry and supply some short history of the Tutelo while addressing his letters to Speck.

During the late nineteenth century considerable excitement was generated among anthropologists to discover a Siouan language among the Six Nations Iroquois near Brantford, Ontario. Credit for discovering the Tutelo linguistic relationship with the Dakota Siouan language family was given to the philologist Horatio Hale.4 While residing at Clinton, Ontario, Hale made a visit to an old Native man named Nikungha (Nikonha) said to be the last survivor of the Tutelos. Reported by Anderson:

This venerable Indian, who has died since Mr. Hale's visit, at the advanced age of a hundred and six years, or thereabout, resided on the Reserve of the Six Nations, near Brantford. …

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