In the summer of 2009 Chief William “Bill” Honyoust Rockwell’s family presented the Oneida Indian Nation with a pipe he carved as a prototype for the 16-foot-long pipe he created for the 1932 New York State Fair. The pipe was a full year in the making, according to an undated, unidentified news article.

“We called out to the [Rockwell] family and wanted to bring something positive to the Nation,” said Jerome Rockwell at the time, Bill’s great-great-grandson, who also donated a headdress belonging to his antecedent.

A reception was held at the Ray Elm Children and Elders Center, with Nation Representative Ray Halbritter (Wolf Clan) accepting the pipe on behalf of the Nation.

“It’s an understatement to say how honored we are to receive these articles that are part of Bill Rockwell’s legacy,” said Ray. “Bill Rockwell fought to have our rights recognized during the Boylan case.

“It is so important to have leaders. Any nation or community organization has to have a leader with vision. Bill Rockwell had a vision he passed down to the Oneida people. He struggled for the Oneida people. He could trace his family back to Polly Cooper when the Oneidas were allies with the colonists and didn’t know the outcome of the [Revolutionary] war.”

Because none of Bill Rockwell’s children had Oneida mothers, none were on the Oneida rolls. His descendants have passed through different bloodlines, including Onondaga and Mohawk. Today that bloodline has once again returned to the Oneidas.

Kalynn, Erin, Levi and Jaden Confer (Turtle Clan) are descended from Bill Rockwell’s line through their father Jim (Mohawk). He said he brought his children to the presentation to learn “where they’ve come from, where it all started, how Bill Rockwell fought to keep the land.”

Their paternal grandmother, Valerie Cook, (whose father was Donald Rockwell, Bill’s son Henry’s child) said the bloodline had come full circle with her grandchildren and her cousin Mike Homer’s children and grandchildren once again on the Oneida rolls.

“I remember Bill Rockwell; I was 10 years old when he died,” said Valerie. “I would peek into his room when he was sick and he’d say, ‘I know who you are.’ He gave me wooden marbles – pale yellow and pale red—I didn’t know the value of them then. And, he would show me the land, the 32 acres.

“Now the heritage has come full circle.”

Today the pipe prototype can be found on display at the Oneida Indian Nation’s Shako:wi Cultural Center on Territory Road in Oneida. The 16-foot-long pipe is still on display in the Six Nations Agricultural Society Indian Village at the New York State Fair.

Taken from an article originally published in The Oneida, Issue 5, Vol. 11, July/August 2009.

Did You Know?

In 1932, Franklin D. Roosevelt, then Governor of New York, visited the New York State Fair Indian Village for the dedication of a large ceremonial pipe. In 1933 Roosevelt again visited the Indian Village, this time as President of the United States, designating the Indian Village as reservation land belonging to the Six Nations Agricultural Society.