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Oneida Bands

Oneida Band

 

    Giving a distinct mark to the Wisconsin Oneida community, the Oneida Band offered a way for Oneida to earn an income and enrich the culture of the community. For many of the Oneida, interest in music was kindled while away at school. Simeon Adams stated that while at school out East, he decided to take on music and he was taught music by the band master. It was there that he got his first experience being in a band made of twelve people. Upon returning to the reservation Adams joined the Oneida Band.[1]

    Tom Elm related that by the end of the 1930s, the Oneida Band had been in existence for approximately seventy years. The band had gone through several changes over the years. When first organized, the group was called the Nation Band. At that time the Oneida community pooled together funds from the Annuity payment from the U.S. Government and bought the instruments needed to start the band. After a time, when the instruments were worn out and had to be replaced the Band was “re-organized…and they changed the name to National Band.” [2] Chauncey Baird called it “the people’s band…” and stated, “They called it the Oneida National band because the band use[d] to belong to the people.” Eventually some of the Band members left the National Band and started another group called the American Band which became a traveling band. At least two other bands formed that were called the Union Band and the Bear Band.[3]

    The American Band was organized by James Wheelock. This Band traveled around the country and visited approximately fourteen different states. According to Tom Elm, this band played many times at the Wisconsin State Fair in Milwaukee. The last time the band played there was in 1926. Elm notes that after 1926, “we have been satisfied just to play here [Oneida], and [in] the surrounding towns.”[4] Chauncey Baird refers to his friend Tom, who is presumably Tom Elm because Baird stated that Elm played in the American Band. According to Baird, the American Band eventually broke up and Elm joined the Oneida National Band, which toured locally. The Oneida National Band was hired out to play for different occasions including “the different fairs and always on the 4th [of July].” Band members made ten dollars each for their performances.[5]

    By the end of the 1930s the significance of the Oneida Band had begun its permanent decline. Although the band still existed, it is difficult to determine how much money they made during the depression. Tom Elm pointed out that the band was in decline because “the players [are] getting old, those that are the best players[,] and some of them are poor in health.” The band had always been a changing band, the older members retiring and being replaced by younger men. Elm states that the young people were no longer joining the band because they were “hired by different good bands away from here.”[6]

    By the 1930s there was a change taking place in the education system that affected the profitability of the Oneida Band. Chauncey Baird pointed out that work became hard to find because, “there are so many High [school students] learning to play in the bands.”[7] Mark Fonder of Ithaca University wrote an article published in 1989 that confirms Baird’s statement. Fonder explained that by 1922 there were more music educators in school in Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin, than any other region of the country.”[8] David Skenandore commented on the Citizens Day celebration of May 28th, 1939 in Green Bay that one of his boys took part in the parade because he was in one of the local high school bands.[9]


[1] Simon Adams to LaFront King, binder labeled OH-5F, entry F-7. WPA Oneida Language and Folklore Project, the Oneida Cultural Heritage Department, Green Bay, Wisconsin.
[2] Tom Elm to Guy Elm, binder labeled OH-5G, entry G-25. WPA Oneida Language and Folklore Project, the Oneida Cultural Heritage Department, Green Bay, Wisconsin.
[3] Chauncey Baird to Tillie Baird, binder labeled OH-5T, entry T-41. WPA Oneida Language and Folklore Project, the Oneida Cultural Heritage Department, Green Bay, Wisconsin.
[4] Tom Elm to Guy Elm, binder labeled OH-5G, entry G-25. WPA Oneida Language and Folklore Project, the Oneida Cultural Heritage Department, Green Bay, Wisconsin.
[5] Chauncey Baird to Tillie Baird, binder labeled OH-5T, entry T-41. WPA Oneida Language and Folklore Project, the Oneida Cultural Heritage Department, Green Bay, Wisconsin.
[6] Tom Elm to Guy Elm, binder labeled OH-5G, entry G-25. WPA Oneida Language and Folklore Project, the Oneida Cultural Heritage Department, Green Bay, Wisconsin.
[7] Chauncey Baird to Tillie Baird, binder labeled OH-5T, entry T-41. WPA Oneida Language and Folklore Project, the Oneida Cultural Heritage Department, Green Bay, Wisconsin.
[8] Mark Fonder, “The Wisconsin School Music Association and Its Contests: The Early Years,” in Journal of Research in Music Education, 37, 2 (Summer, 1989), 112.
[9] By David Skenandore, May 29th, 1939, binder labeled OH-5V, entry V-86. WPA Oneida Language and Folklore Project, the Oneida Cultural Heritage Department, Green Bay, Wisconsin.