Author Quita V. Shier shares the stories of Native Americans who fought in the Civil War
Anyone who has taken a grade-school history class may be able to recall dates and battles from the American Civil War that ended 152 years ago. What those history books probably did not include, was a group of sharpshooters called “Company K.”
Company K was the only company in the First Michigan Sharpshooter Regiment with only indigenous men on its roster.
In “Warriors in Mr. Lincoln’s Army: Native American Soldiers Who Fought in the Civil War,” author Quita V. Shier presents comprehensive profiles of these little-known soldiers, and why they wanted to enlist to fight a war in a country where they were not even recognized as citizens.
“Most stories we read about the Civil War are centered on generals and their experiences,” Shier said. “I’m concerned with the enlisted men, the ‘grunts’, who did the fighting and dying for this country. These are their stories.”
Shier’s book contains the profiles of 140 Native American men of Company K and the company officers, based on military, pension and census records, as well as information and pictures from some of the men’s descendants, including military experience, medical treatments of wounds and diseases, and biographies.
Excerpts from “Warriors in Mr. Lincoln’s Army”
Henry Wassagezhic (Henry Condecon). Company K, First Michigan Sharpshooters. Picture from the booklet "Proceedings of the La Pointe band of Chippewa Indians in General Council and Assembled at Odanah , Wisconsin, 1907."
WAASEGIIZHIG, HENRY, PRIVATE, AKA (HENRY CONDECON)
Henry’s Chippewa (also called Ojibwa/Ojibwe) family name of Waasegiizhig means “Bright Sky.” He used the name Waasegiizhig as his warrior name when he enlisted into the army. Henry’s father was descended from a long line of well respected and revered chiefs, as was his mother. He also used the name Condecon or Okandikan which, in translation, means “bouy” or “to keep the net up.”
Fluent in the English language, Henry was a respected ambassador of his tribe when he traveled to Washington, DC to confer with US Government representatives about official tribal business. See page 15 in Introduction and pages 401 and 402 in Henry’s file.
Thomas Kechittigo, Company K, First Michigan Sharpshooters and his wife, Mary (Campau Elke) Kechittigo. Circa 1915. (National Archives, Washington, DC.)
KECHITTIGO, THOMAS, SERGEANT
Tom, who was a Chippewa (also called Ojibwa/Ojibwe), was a well known and respected log driving (river hog) lumberjack who navigated Michigan rivers in the spring run and worked for various lumber companies. While in the service, he taught a Union sharpshooter from another unit how to disguise himself with vegetation and told him to roll in the dirt to cover the blue color of his uniform. Tom was well liked by the officers and the men of Company K. In his postwar life, Tom was a guest (sometimes accompanied by his wife, Mary) at many dinners given by the well known lumber barons who employed him. See page 13 in the Introduction and page 203 of Kechittigo’s file.
Payson Wolf, Company K, First Michigan Sharpshooters (courtesy of the Avis D. Wolfe family collection)
WOLF, PAYSON, PRIVATE
Payson Wolf was a descendant of highly respected Ottawa/Odawa chiefs of the Maingun (or Wolf) and Wakazoo families. He attended Rev. George Nelson Smith’s Congregational Church Mission in Northport of Leelanau County and was a classmate of the minister’s daughter, Mary Jane. Payson and Mary Jane fell in love and wanted to be married, but the contemplation of such an inter-cultural marriage was not well received by the indigenous (also called the Anishinabek) and the non-indigenous members of Smith’s church.
Rev. Smith knew that since he had taught that the indigenous Anishinabek were equal in every way to the non indigenous population and, if he did not honor the young couple’s wishes for marriage, everything that he had preached in his sermons about cultural relations would be for naught.
An agreement was made for the marriage between Payson and Mary Jane and Rev. Smith honored his commitment to officiate at the ceremony. The couple were happy together as witness to Payson’s loving letters home to his wife and family.
Due to witnessing the deaths of his buddies and the brutality of his prison camp experience, Payson came home suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. Unable to properly provide for his family and conflicted as to just who he was, Payson’s personality changed in a dark and troubling way. Mary Jane and their thirteen children were powerless to halt his downward spiral. Tragically, the couple eventually divorced and went their separate ways. See page 15.
Second Lieutenant Garret A. Graveraet, Company K, First Michigan Sharpshooters (courtesy of the Bentley Historical Library, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor)
GRAVERAET, GARRETT A., SECOND LIEUTENANT
Through his parents, Garrett Graveraet was descended from Ottawa/Odawa, French, Scots-Irish, English and Netherlands Dutch lineages.
Being an excellent student, Garrett acquired a very good education for his time. He loved literature, music and art and became an accomplished violinist as well as a portrait and landscape painter. He was also a proficient speaker of the Anishinabe, English and French languages. But, Garrett’s main weakness was that he did not enjoy the best of health. This issue would plague him throughout his brief life.
As he grew to manhood, Garrett helped his father with fishing, hunting and farming, enjoyed woodland experiences with his Anishinabek friends and learned refined ways from his mother. He walked easily in two worlds as witness to his brief teaching career in an Anishinabek school. Being linguistically proficient and adept at cultural mediation, the young man was a natural born leader and would show this ability in his service to his country.
While leading his company in an assault against rebel artillerymen during the Battle of Petersburg in Virginia on July 17, 1864, Second Lieutenant Garrett Graveraet suffered a serious gunshot wound in the upper left arm near his shoulder. His arm was surgically removed, but after ten days of deteriorating health and constant intense pain, the young officer died at the age of 24. Many hearts were broken in the loss of this fine young man. See pages 26, 28, 30, 31.
SCOTT, ANTOINE, CORPORAL (no picture available)
Ottawa/Odawa Corporal Antoine Scott (also known as Antoine Scott La Croix and Antoine Wayaubemind) distinguished himself in action during the Union’s disaster at the Battle of the Crater before Petersburg, Virginia on June 30, 1864. He was recommended twice for the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry, bravery and good conduct during the battle to wit: “in refusing to screen himself from the enemy’s fire behind the enemy’s works, he stood boldly up and deliberately and calmly fired his piece until the enemy was almost upon him and when instead of laying down his arm and surrendering, ran the gauntlet of shot and shell and escaped.”
Antoine was not a well man upon his discharge and died of pneumonia at the age of thirty-seven on December 10, 1878. It’s sad that the only Michigan Anishinabe Civil War soldier to be recommended twice for this prestigious award did not receive his country’s highest military honor and wear its medal proudly before he died. Medals of Honor were not awarded posthumously during that time in our country’s history. See pages 330, 331, 332.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Quita V. Shier is a graduate of Illinois Wesleyan University and a resident of Michigan, who has a lifelong interest in Native American cultures and life ways. She taught a course about Michigan history and culture at Delta College, University Center, and is a frequent guest speaker. She is experienced in archival and family genealogical research, and is a member of the National Society Daughters of the Union 1861-1865. Some pictures and stories in her book were supplied by the descendants of the Company K men.
“My grandfather loved to read about American history. He felt strongly about the Native Americans’ marginal existence in U.S. society and the failure of the treaties that the government did not honor. He asked me to do something for the American Indians and this book is the fulfillment of that promise.”
Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe Council Member Mervin Wright, Jr., Named to EPA Advisory Committee
SAN FRANCISCO – The U. S. Environmental Protection Agency announced the appointment of Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe Council Member Mervin Wright, Jr., of Nixon, Nev., to the Local Government Advisory Committee (LGAC). The 33-member LGAC helps EPA develop strong partnerships with local governments to provide more efficient and effective environmental protection at the community, state, and federal level.
Council Member Wright has also been appointed to the Small Community Advisory Subcommittee (SCAS), which helps EPA develop robust partnerships with small communities to address environmental and public health issues.
"EPA’s efforts to protect public health and the environment are most effective when the Agency works cooperatively with state and local governments," said EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt. “I look forward to working with the committee members on important environmental issues while developing stronger and more robust partnerships across states, tribes, and local communities."
“Council Member Wright has deep knowledge of the environmental issues facing tribal governments in the West,” said Alexis Strauss, Acting Regional Administrator for EPA’s Pacific Southwest Region. “His many years of experience working on these issues are a tremendous asset.”
Council Member Wright has dedicated his career to promoting water quality issues. He also serves on the tribal council, has served on a variety of committees that focus on tribal and environmental issues and was awarded the Nevada Indian Commission American Indian Community Leader of the Year in 2010. Council Member Wright currently represents the interests of tribes from Nevada on EPA’s National Tribal Caucus.
“I am pleased with the selection to serve the EPA Local Government Advisory Committee,” said Council Member Mervin Wright, Jr. “I am committed to our responsibility to protect the environment and to assure effective logical scientific application with the decision-making process.”
EPA is committed to collaborating with states and local governments in the spirit of cooperative federalism to build on their work to achieve cost reductions and better allocate resources. Improvements to public health and the environment are best achieved when EPA works together with states, tribes, and communities to address environmental issues through trust, collaboration, and partnership.
The new committee members were selected based on their demonstrated leadership experience, proven record of service to their communities, and involvement in effective environmental protection services and programs at the community, state, and federal level.
Chartered in 1993 under the Federal Advisory Committee Act, the Local Government Advisory Committee provides independent and objective policy advice to the EPA Administrator. The Small Community Advisory Subcommittee was established by EPA in 1996 to advise the Administrator on environmental issues of concern to the residents of smaller communities. It is a subcommittee of the Local Government Advisory Committee. The committee and subcommittee intend to meet in early summer to begin their work.
For more information and to see the full list of newly appointed LGAC and SCAS members, please visit https://www.epa.gov/ocir.
“Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World”
By Sandra Hale Schulman
News From Indian Country
Elliot Easton, Nishi Boy Salas, Christina Fon, Wayne Kramer, and Scott Goldman at the special screening of Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World, at the Grammy Museum. Check out Rumble's Facebook Page.
It’s taken a century of popular music to finally swing around and acknowledge the deeply ingrained influence of Native Americans. The beats, the rhythms, the imagery leave their fingerprints all over blues, jazz, folk, and rock.
In 2005, Brian Wright McLeod published the definitive book The Encyclopedia of Native Music that listed every known Native contribution to music from the wax cylinder to download streaming. That tome caught the attention of the curators at the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian who organized an exhibit highlighting native musicians in popular culture called “Up Where We Belong: Native Musicians in Popular Culture”. The exhibit ran for 6 months in Washington DC then moved to NYC for a year where it was a blockbuster show, attended by thousands. I helped with the show, contributing my archives on folksinger Peter La Farge and appearing on a panel with Stevie Salas, Derek Miller, and McLeod in Washington.
The Executive Director of the Museum Tim Johnson connected with guitarist Stevie Salas who was in the exhibit and realized a feature documentary needed to be made.
After 4 years “Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked The World” premiered to a sold out audience and big buzz at Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah. The film digs deep, mining a rich vein of often painful history when native song and dance such as the Ghost Dance which could get you killed, and did. Moving on through the ages and genres, the film presents major players of jazz – Mildred Bailey; blues – Charley Patton whose distinct scatlike singing style is called Indian music by Pura Fe in the film. Rocker Jimi Hendrix, Country rocker Robbie Robertson, Folk icon Buffy Saint Marie, Peter La Farge and more are engagingly profiled with rare film clips and music.
Looming large over the film is John Trudell, who gives his memories of how he connected with Jesse Ed Davis, the guitar slinger who played with George Harrison and Bob Dylan. “Indian Ed” Davis had a shooting star career cut short by his heroin addiction. There’s some great scenes of Davis performing, interviews with his widow, and a segment where Salas and Trudell play powwow drums and sing in his honor. Trudell died as the film was being finished and it’s dedicated to him.
Another rocker getting his due is heavy metal drummer Randy Castillo, a unique musician beloved by many for his powerhouse rhythms and ebullient personality. I worked with Randy at the Native American Music Awards in 1999 in Albuquerque where he presented an award with Laura Satterfield of Walela and hung out with Hank Williams III having a grand old time. Castillo was felled by cancer and scenes of his wild style drumming show what a great loss it is.
One great scene in the film takes place between Pat Vegas of Redbone and Taboo of the Black Eyed Peas, who gives his thanks to Vegas for being out and proud in the 1970s by appearing in full native dress on the Midnight Special. Taboo was the guest DJ at the private party the night before the screening, thrilled to be representing hip hop and also to even be alive, as he has been fighting cancer for 2 years. He spun “Come and Get You Love” for all of us to dance to as a blizzard raged outside.
Tim Johnson and Taboo from Black Eyed Peas
The film barely has time to cover all the great musicians, though the producers revealed that expanded docs for a series may be in the works.
The reviews raved:
“The influence of Native Americans on nearly a century of popular music is eloquently demonstrated in this engaging documentary. As Catherine Bainbridge and Alfonso Maiorana’s astoundingly rich and resonant music documentary makes abundantly clear, American popular music – and the history of rock and roll itself – wouldn’t be the same without the contributions of Native American performers.” – Hollywood Reporter.
“Rumble: The Indians Who Rocked the World” earns respect as much for its achievement as its ambition, while offering a celebratory examination of the often-underappreciated role played in the development of American popular music by singers, musicians, and songwriters of Native American ancestry. The film is structured more or less as a series of individual portraits of 10 significant artists, ranging from Delta blues great Charley Patton to iconic electric guitarist Jimi Hendrix (who was part Cherokee) to living legend Robbie Robertson. A few episodes are less satisfying than others, but only because they spotlight intriguing yet obscure figures that audiences likely would want to learn about in greater detail.” – Variety.
“Where in this day and age can you find things that are hidden?” said producer Bainbridge in a recent interview, whose other award-winning documentary Reel Injun explored the portrayal of Native Americans in movies and on TV. “That’s the secret sauce, this hidden gem of a story,” Bainbridge said of how “these incredible icons” inspired so many famous performers seen in the documentary.
Buffy Saint Marie points out that she was blacklisted in the 60s by the corporate regimes behind the media, namely the oil industry who didn’t want to hear natives singing about reservation lands being desecrated for drilling and mining.
As the people of the Dakotas – and beyond - gear up for another battle against the Dakota Pipeline, no doubt it will be music and musicians that brings awareness in the fight once again.