A Time to Remember
“Warm humid air and overcast, threatening skies, indications of stormy weather in the making, greeted the rebel militia early on the fateful morning of August 6…
At about 10 a.m., the lead elements of Herkimer’s force plunged into the crevasse, strode across the log bridge, and started scaling the opposite incline. Breathing heavily, they did not dawdle. Moments later, just behind the head of the column, an eruption of musketry fire shattered the calm. Herkimer had stumbled into a classic ambush…
The first blast caught Herkimer’s militiamen and the Oneidas completely unaware… A musket ball shattered his [Herkimer’s] leg about six inches below his knee… Rebel fighters carried Herkimer up onto the western ridge and leaned him against a beech tree, with two Oneidas standing guard over him.”*
And it would be a long hard day as the bloody Battle of Oriskany proceeded.
Each year, descendants of those who fought and died on that terrain come together to remember. This year was no exception, as the fife and drum announced the arrival of representatives of the Nation and others whose forbears were part of the decisive Aug. 6, 1777, battle. See slideshow.
Ten-year-old Libby Welch (Bear Clan) had learned about the battle during school last year and had journeyed to the site for the memorial with her mom, Patty, and maternal grandmother Kathy Patterson. Libby was to carve her own piece of history, accompanying her grandmother as she placed the Oneida offering – a plate of food from the feast that took place before the ceremony to honor the deceased -- before the Oriskany monument.
“I learned the story about the war,” said Libby. “The park ranger had talked about Aunt Marilyn (John) and how she represented the Nation.”
Patty was proud her daughter was in attendance at the event and that she had a role to play so that “she’ll know what do to when it’s her turn to take up the offering.”
The offering and wreath-laying ceremony was preceded by Oneida members Ron Patterson (Wolf Clan), Tammy Patterson (Wolf Clan), Will Kuhl (Wolf Clan), and Nate George -- leading the somber procession of descendents onto the field, followed by speakers, including Will.
“It is a mixture of sadness and gratitude that brings me to this site each year,” said Will. “No words could adequately express the promise set forth by the War of Independence – a promise of a better life for all in this land. And at its center was a whisper that would crescendo into a call for equality for all – red, black, yellow and white – set in motion by those who bravely fought for a revolutionary cause – freedom.”
Oneida warriors fought beside the colonists on that sultry day in 1777, one of the bloodiest battles of the War for Independence. The Oneidas and the colonial militia, commanded by Gen. Nicholas Herkimer, were able to stop the advance of a British expeditionary force marching from the Great Lakes under Gen. St. Leger, who was attempting to move east and join Gen. Burgoyne and his forces, who were marching south from Canada. If the two forces had united, they could have successfully divided the colonies in half.
Hundreds died during the battle, and Gen. Herkimer was fatally wounded. The Oneidas and colonists, however, prevented the British forces from joining, an event that contributed to Burgoyne’s loss at the Battle of Saratoga.
Several Oneidas distinguished themselves, among them Han Yerry. This Oneida man fought valiantly, even after withstanding an injury. With the aid of his wife, Two Kettles Together -- who loaded his gun -- Han Yerry continued to shoot at the enemy. His wife, one of his sons and his half-brother also fought with valor.
“Because most historians over the next century either ignored or did not know about Oneida participation in the battle, there were no tabulations of Oneida losses. The Spencer brothers [Thomas and Edward, who were half-Oneida] gave their lives; Han Yerry was shot in the wrist; and Blatcop suffered a broken arm in the fight. Doubtless other Oneidas incurred wounds as well, and perhaps some even died at Oriskany. Posterity will never know.”*
*Excerpts from Forgotten Allies: The Oneida Indians and American Revolution by Joseph T. Glatthaar and James Kirby Martin
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