'Cornplanter: Chief Warrior of the Allegany Senecas,' by Thomas S. Abler
WINDOW ROCK, Ariz. - It's the story of an American Indian of mixed ancestry, caught in a changing world.
While it could as easily be set in modern times, it is the story of Seneca Chief Warrior Cornplanter - who helped guide the Five Nations during the American Revolution and the uneasy years following it.
In ''Cornplanter: Chief Warrior of the Allegany Senecas'' (Syracuse University Press), author Thomas S. Abler delves into the life and times of Cornplanter to present a picture of an intelligent and influential Indian leader who had to try to bridge two worlds.
Also known as John O'Bail, Cornplanter came into power right about the time the revolution began. Among his contemporaries were the Mohawk Joseph Brant and the young Red Jacket, Seneca.
His father was a white trader, often at odds with both the British authorities and local Indians who accused him of cheating them. He illegally sold alcohol to the Indians.
Though he had little contact with his father, Cornplanter belonged to a matriarchal society, so he belonged to his mother's clan.
Abler skims the Seneca part in the revolution, with brief descriptions of events around battles, sieges and confrontations from Fort Freeland to Newtown to Oriskany.
Abler gives little detail to Cornplanter's actual role in most battles, perhaps because of scant and contradictory evidence. However, he points to the release of Cornplanter's father after he was captured to demonstrate the place Cornplanter held among the Seneca.
Though he may have enjoyed a stellar reputation among his tribe before and during the American Revolution, the years following it would prove difficult and often controversial.
The revolution divided the powerful Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy, as some tribes, including the Seneca, sided with the British. The reasoning was simply that the British would let the Indians keep their lands and the Americans would seize it.
But when Britain surrendered, it made no provision for its Indian allies, leaving them at the mercy of the upstart American government.
As Abler amply demonstrates, Cornplanter seems to have done his best to secure land and rights for the Seneca, but many were dissatisfied with the various treaties. Some Indians claimed that Cornplanter was too pliant to white demands.
In fact, Cornplanter was rewarded with large tracts of land for his role in the treaty negotiations.
So hostile were Seneca reactions to the 1784 Treaty of Fort Stanwix that the lives of the negotiators - including Cornplanter's - were at considerable risk.
In the years following the British surrender, the fledgling United States had inconsistent Indian polices. Some states, like New York, claimed the right to negotiate with the Indians; while others, such as Pennsylvania, wanted the new federal Congress to take responsibility.
As the federal and state governments struggled over what to do about the Indians, local jurisdictions also took a hand, and settlers flocked onto Indian land.
There would be skirmishes and threats of war for years, though the power of the Indians was clearly waning.
Did Cornplanter recognize the inevitable, that the United States was too strong to resist, or did he give away too much for his own interests?
The question bobs its head throughout Indian history, from Massasoit of the Wampanoag in the 1620s to Captain Jack of the Modocs more than 200 years later.
But with few options, perhaps Cornplanter made the best bargain he could to ensure the survival of the Seneca.