In Memoriam: obituary of Deskaheh tells legacy of leader

On Monday, June 29, 1925 the headlines of national news reported the death of Haudenosaunee leader and Confederacy spokesperson Deskaheh Levi General. His obituary read as follows:

“Levi General, a member of the old council of chiefs of the Six Nations Indians, died early yesterday morning on the Tuscarora Reservation near Niagara Falls. He had been stricken on a train from Rochester and was taken to the home of Chief Clinton Rickard on the reservation, where he died. Levi General was 52 years old, and a leader in the movement among the Six Nations to induce the Canadian Government to agree to certain treaty rights claimed by the red men. He had been in Rochester conferring with lawyers relative to tribal affairs and had planned to spend several weeks among the New York branches of the Six Nations. His home was in Hagersville, Ont., where the body was taken today for burial by his brother, Alexander General.

The funeral will take place tomorrow afternoon from his home to the Upper Cayuga Longhouse. The superintendent of the Six Nations, Lieutenant-Col, C.E. Morgan, this morning expressed his regret at the death of General, who was a prominent member of the council under the old system. Colonel Morgan expressed his intention of attending the funeral tomorrow afternoon, and the flag on the council house at Ohsweken will fly at half mast on the day of the funeral as a compliment to the memory of a member of the old council.

His Career

Levi General, (Deskaheh), was the son of William General and a grandson of Chief Jacob General, reputed as a great speaker among the chiefs of his time, and accredited by many of the older tribesmen as being largely responsible for the bringing in of the Indian Act of 1869, the provisions of which Levi General fought strenuously during and after the time he was a

member of the Six Nations council. Levi General became a chief about 1916 and about two years later was one of the committee of 12 consisting of two chiefs from each tribe, pressing what was known as the “status case” to gain recognition of a certain status for the Six Nations. The committee met frequently and spent much money. A bill amounting to about $1000 for  their services was presented to a meeting of the council but was turned down when some of the chiefs objected. A meeting of the people was held soon after in one of the long houses when objection was taken to the big account presented by the committee for payment out of the fund and Levi General was told that if he did not withdraw his account, steps would be taken to depose him as a chief. At the next meeting of the council Levi (Deskaheh) dramatically stepped over to the table, picked up the statement of his account and publicly tore it in pieces, declaring that he desired to work for the Six Nations people for nothing. As a result of this action he obtained a strong following and Asa Hill, then secretary of the council, was discharged and his place filled by Dave Hill a staunch supporter of Deskaheh. Sam Lickers, a member of the committee, was deposed as a chief.

To England

Deskaheh with his followers went still further in his demands then the old status case committee, declaring for the absolute independence of the Six Nations. The status committee had been employing the services of Mr. Lighthall, a lawyer of Montreal. An American, known as Dr. Bates, visited the reserve and meeting with Deskaheh’s followers told them that G.P. Decker, a lawyer of Rochester would take their case for them. Decker and Bates visited the reserve and addressed a meeting at one of the long houses and Decker was engaged on the spot as their lawyer and has been acting for them since. Deskaheh’s party was known as the “Mohawk Workers”. The party started at once collecting funds to push their cause. Some national property was sold for this purpose, sales, teas, private subscriptions, lacrosse games, and many other means of raising money were put into effect and they even resorted to mortgaging a teacher’s residence on the reserve for $500 to add to the fund. The next step, about three years ago, was to send Levi General to England, avowedly to see the King and press his claim first hand. One of the chiefs on the reserve later produced a letter purporting to be from Deskaheh in which he said he had interviewed the King who said his claims were all right and only the Canadian Government and the Indian Department stood in the way and they could be brushed aside. In a subsequent letter to a representative of the Expositor, through Decker, Deskaheh stated that he had not interviewed the King and did not ask for an interview. This first visit to Europe lasted only about two months but a second trip was made over a year ago with the avowed intention on placing the matter before the League of Nations at Geneva. The claims were presented to the League Council by some foreign delegates but the matter was referred to the Canadian Government as not being international question, but a problem coming under the jurisdiction of the Canadian Government. Deskaheh remained in Europe about a year returning just recently to the United States. During his travels his exact whereabouts have remained somewhat of a mystery, only occasional reports of his activities coming back to the public on this side. Levi General is survived by his widow, Mary, five sons, Norman, Wilfred, Tremaine, Earl and Daniel, four daughters, Rachel, Malera, Mary and Gloria, and four brothers, David, a member of the present council of the Six Nations, Timothy, Sampson, and Alex. With the exception of Samson, who lives near Hamilton, all are residents of the Six Nations reserve. C. Garlow, of the Reserve, in speaking of General’s death said that he would be much missed as he was well thought of by his followers who had great confidence in him.”

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