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Duck Creek

  family in front of tent

The following is an excerpt from a paper written by Loretta Metoxen 

In 1822, The Oneidas had to travel from the boat landing west to the Duck Creek area and they had to make make shift shelters for immediate use because there were no places to stay yet. They then scouted out the land, cut trees and build log cabins so they would be comfortable in the coming winter. There was a great shortage of food because they had missed the planting time for corn, beans and squash. They had to rely on the provisions that would be sent from the Government but those provisions were late in coming, so the people were hungry the first winter. They had to plead with the government to ship the food that was promised.  The Duck Creek area was abundant with natural resources necessary to sustain a good way of life. These natural resources included the clean water of Duck Creek, timber, animals, fish, and plants.

Eleazor Williams who had urged the Oneidas to come to Wisconsin was bound to help them but he wasn't very persuasive with the government, he was actually working on behalf of himself w/ the Ogden Land Co and the government.  He wasn't living with the Oneidas, but was in the Green Bay area.  He eventually married Madaline Jourdaine and she came from a well to do family and had 4,000 acres along the banks of the Fox River.

The Oneidas came in family groupings so families who traveled at a later date could depend on the families that had struggled to make their homesteads.  Most families build log structures in New York, so they knew how to make their homes when they got here.  They also built barns and other outbuildings for their equipment and farm animals.  The roles of the family were changing, originally the women would take care of the fields and the men would hunt.  Now, the men would be in the fields with their oxen and farm animals plowing the fields, where as the women would take care of the home. 

Old lady with corn pounder  family portrait

The following are various accounts of the times written in FDRs Works Progress Administration Writers Project.  In the late 1930s, Oneida Elders were hired to share their life stories, anything from farming, animals, people, their way of life to folktales.

When they arrived here they traveled around in the woods, they came to a river and were surprised to see so many ducks there, so they named it Duck Creek, they traveled along this river and saw a lot of fish. They killed a bear in just the short time that they hunted. That was their meat while they were here.

They also found blackberries, raspberries, blackcaps, cranberries, and blueberries, also wild high-bush cranberries. They found it a nice place to move to. They also saw all kinds of birds, partridge, bob-white and pigeons. They did not delay in returning to tell, how cheaply they could live at Duck Creek. (WPA: D-29 Jefferson Baird)

When they first got here the Oneidas, or shall I say the Oneida Tribe of Indians, all kinds of animals were here, and so these are some of their names: deer, wolf, raccoon, bobcat, lynx, badger, muskrat, skunk, beaver, otter, grey squirrel, gopher, jack rabbit and tail rabbit. (WPA:Z-15 Oscar Archiquette)

The Oneida people knew a great deal about using plants for preventive medicine and for healing, such as strawberry drink for vitamin C. Strawberry drink is made with water, maple syrup and strawberries. This drink is shared by the people at the strawberry ceremony to give thanks that once again we can gather wild strawberries.

There is a prophecy that one day the earth will be so polluted that we will no longer see the wild strawberries. It is our responsibility to see that doesn’t happen.

The other day I was to see this William House. I was looking for a story. I asked him how he looked at this--what some people say, ‘we have become civilized.’ That is, we are baptized and now we have adopted the white man’s customs. So William replied and said, ‘what I think about it personally, I believe that what has happened is most unfortunate for us. While we were not baptized, our Creator had many ways to letting us know things that was for our good. He gave us many medicines. He put the animals there for us to eat. There were many fishes living in the stream. Everywhere were things with which for us to make fire. There was nothing lacking.... (WPA:A44 Andrew Beechtree)

As far as I can remember when I was a child we were well off and we didn’t know what relief was in those days. It was one’s own fault if he or she was very hard up because there was plenty of everything that we lived on. In the fall if one would help themselves even very little they would have plenty to eat.

Weather conditions were good for planting any kind of crops. There was no expense to raise pigs because in the fall when the nuts were ripe and fell, the pigs would feed on these and when they are fattened on nuts they make a very good meat.

When winter came we had barrels of pork and if we wanted other meat there were plenty of wild game to be hunted and every spring we had barrels of salted fish...the only time an Oneida would be hunting was when he needed meat to eat and when our men first enters the woods he would see and kill game at once then bring back only enough so that none would spoil. But when he went fishing there seemed to be no limit because it was only in the spring that the fish was good and we salted all they brought.

...There was also plenty of firewood. We had good timber on our land, we had wood and logs, we made sugar from the maple trees. We did this in the spring and we made syrup as well as sugar so as I said before one need only help themselves a little and they had plenty. (WPA: J30 Ida Baird to John A. Skenandore)

No doubt if you went into any ones (old timers) home, there would be bundles of dried pumpkin hanging here and there, also they would have several hundreds both dried and salted fish. They used to dry apples and blackberries. By that they used to have a lot of food stored up when cold weather set in, in the fall of the year. (WPA: D90 Mrs. Nelson B. Cornelius to Dennison Hill)

SUMMARY:

Our ancestors talked about the good times in the 1800s when the Oneida Reservation was whole and there was an abundance of fish, game, berries, nuts and medicine for them to use. They understood the interaction and reciprocity of all these things with the main waterway they called Duck Creek.

They were dependent upon the vast forest which surrounded them. They built their houses from the pine and wove baskets from the black ash. The hoop poles they prepared by the thousands for barrel making was a social affair with all family members or even entire neighborhoods participating. Their pigs grew fat from the acorns of the red and white oak.

Huge quantities of maple syrup and sugar were harvested in the various “sugar bushes”, again by family gatherings where everyone there had a certain responsibility. Subsistence farming and gathering from the environment were a natural way of life for Oneida people.