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Wyandotte Nation

Wyandotte Nation

By Gwynne Easley

In 2018, Chief of the Wyandotte Nation of Oklahoma, Billy Friend received a phone call from the United Methodist Church’s mission group Global Missions inviting him to Upper Sandusky, Ohio.

Upper Sandusky was the last place the Wyandotte Nation resided in Ohio before removal. It was the site where the Wyandot Mission Church is located, and is now home to many Wyandotte artifacts.

Chief Friend accepted the methodist’s invitation and left his home in Wyandotte, Oklahoma to make the trip back to the land where his ancestors had once made their homes.

A photo of a sewing kit made by Mary Greyeyes, who was also known as Mother Solomon. More information about Mary Greyeyes can be found here. Photo by Kim Garcia.

In 1795, and after eight months of negotiations, the Treaty of Greenville was signed ending the land war between the United States and the tribes: the Wyandots, Delawares, Shawnees, Ottawas, Chippewas, Pattawatimas, Miamis, Eel Rivers, Weas, Kickapoos, Piankeshaws and Kaskaskias.

There were ten Wyandot Chiefs before the war broke out. After its conclusion, there was one, Chief Tarhe, “the Crane.” He would be the first to sign the treaty.

The treaty stipulated that this would be “the end of hostilities” and mark the beginning of perpetual peace and “friendly intercourse shall take place between the said United States and Indian tribes.”

This was not the case.

According to Chief Friend, the Treaty of Greenville was just the beginning of the theft of Wyandot lands in Ohio.

According to the author of  “On the Back of the Turtle” and citizen of the Wyandotte Nation, Lloyd “Darahok” Divine, there were two warring Native American confederacies The Huron, known as the Wendat, and the Iroquois who defeated and destroyed the Wendat.

The survivors banned together and named themselves the Wyandot. In 1701, they were invited to the Detroit area by the French explorer Cadillac to establish a trading post. According to Divine the land in Ohio was open and home to many tribes including the Delawares, Shawnee, Miami, Ottawa and “Mingo” Seneca. After 1785, those lands territories began to shrink.

In 1817, the Treaty of Fort Meigs reduced the Wyandot territory in Ohio to just the Grand Reserve in Upper Sandusky. Here, methodist missionary John Stewart helped the Wyandots establish the Wyandot Mission Church where Chief Friend would travel over two hundred years later.

“They believe that if they learned enough, just enough of the white man's ways that they thought they would allow them to stay,” said Chief Friend. “It wasn't that they had become assimilated.”

But the Wyandottes were not immune to the Indian Removal Act of 1830.

In 1842 with the promise of 148,000 acres of land on the trans-Mississippi tract  the Wyandots left Upper Sandusky, and boarded steamships in Cincinnati that would take them to their new lands. They were the last tribe to leave Ohio and they were the only tribe to negotiate their own removal.

The Wyandots arrived in the middle of the night in what is now known as Westport in Kansas City.

Chief Friend said that it became clear the next morning they were not going to get the land they had negotiated from the United States government. Instead, the Wyandots turned to the Delawares who sold them 36 tracts of land from the gifted three more in what is now known as Wyandotte County, Kansas.

In 1855, the United States government offered the Wyandots a choice. They could either dissolve their tribal status and become citizens of the United States or retain their tribal status and face removal to “Indian Country”.

Friend said  the land the church sits on was not a part of the treaties that removed the Wyandots from the area. The tribal leaders at the time had asked the methodists to care for the church until they could come back.

This split the tribe into two parties: the Indian Party and the Citizen Party. The Indian Party, which consisted of about 300 people, chose to retain their tribal status and were removed to current day Wyandotte, Oklahoma.  Today, the descendants of the Citizen Party makeup Wyandot Nation of Kansas, and the descendants of the Indian Party make up the Wyandotte Nation of Oklahoma, which is the only tribe of the Wyandot Confederacy recognized by the federal government.

When Chief Friend arrived in Upper Sandusky he was given an offer that shocked him. The Methodists who told him that they wanted to return the Wyandot Mission Church.

On September 21, 2019, the Wyandottes boarded a bus, and finally returned to the land that had once been taken from them.

“To realize that we’re sitting in the same place that our ancestors sat every Sunday, we’re sitting in the same place our ancestors learned how to read and write and having that connection,” said Chief Friend. “It really connects us back to a place in our history, and a lot of people thought we’d never be back.”

About 90 tribal citizens traveled to Upper Sandusky to witness the ceremony reinstating the church to the Wyandotte Nation. Chief Friend said that the last time there were that many tribal citizens in Upper Sandusky they were being removed.

Gwynne Easley is a reporter with Gaylord News, a reporting project of the University of Oklahoma Gaylord College of Journalism and Mass Communication.