The Reservation Lands:
Holding the Land

The Brooklyn Daily Eagle appears to be the source of most of the 19th-century articles deploring, "Lo, the poor Indian." But that is to be expected in an expansionist, industrializing era of "progress"; the Eagle reflected the views of those who wanted land for development. One way to obtain it painlessly was to pass a State law for railroad companies to "contract with the chiefs of a nation of Indians, over whose lands it may be necessary to construct such railroad, for the right to make such road upon such lands." Companies also would have the right to occupance and maintenance of the railroad on these lands (Laws of the State of New York. 1836, Ch. 315: 461; also. Documents of the Assembly, Vol. 7: 82) See the testimony in "How the Land Was Lost" for the Shinnecock view of the Long Island Railroad's methods of securing the Shinnecock Hills right-of-way.

Another way to set the stage for take-over. of Indian land is to encourage dissolution of communally-held land by the group. A State law enacted April 10, 1843 provided that "any native Indian may...purchase, take, hold, and convey lands and real estate in this state, in the same manner as a citizen . . . to the value of one hundred dollars. he shall be liable on contracts, and subject to taxation and to the civil jurisdiction of the courts of law and equity of this state." (Laws of the State of New York, 1843, Ch. 87:63) This legalizes individual ownership and the ability to sell the land.

Then, by making division legal and by demeaning them in print, a people can be made to disappear. For example: "The Shinnecock Indians on the reservation near this place are desirous of selling off their lands. The tract consists of about two square miles of land of great fertility, but the half-breeds do not seem inclined to follow farming . . ." (Patchogue Advance, March 22. 1895, p. 4.) See Demography entries for 1892 and 1919.

Besides racist labeling, legality is used to confuse the issue, such as the report that "Shinnecock Point is no longer the property of the Indian; at last Justice Jennings has decided he has no jurisdiction in the matter of suits affecting it." (Patchogue Advance, Nov. 16, 1878, Vol. 8, No. 8: 3) and the Assembly Committee appointed at the last session of the State Legislature to "inquire into the moral, physical, and financial condition of the Indians on the New York reservations. Subsequently, they are to visit the Shinnecocks on Long Island" (New York Times, July 15, 1888: 9).

Evidence that this scenario is not unfounded exists in contemporary accounts of the time that "descendants of the Shinnecock tribe are living today on their reservation adjacent to the Hills which bear their name, on soil most fertile and location most valuable...near the Atlantic" (White, 1933: 370-377) and "we believe that envious eyes are being cast upon the Shinnecock Reservation. What is to become of 'to, the poor Indian.' if that picturesque little settlement called Shinnecock Neck, is to share the fate of all the other 'Necks' in the vicinity?" (Patchogue Advance, Oct. 19, 1888, p. 6.)

J. A. Bowman, President of the Bank of Detroit, involved with Austin Corbin to purchase the Shinnecock Hills, said: "In 1861, as it was feared the Indians would become a burden. Trustees were "to the Town, the old Reservation was exchanged for a more fertile tract of about 600 acres at Shinnecock Neck, which was given in fee simple forever." (Sag Harbor Corrector, Aug. 27, 1881: 3.)

It is interesting that a people who had not been a "burden" to the Town for 200 years are removed from the chance to be less of a burden by collecting a rental or sale fee for their land the railroad was to traverse.

Continuing legal involvement is reflected in news articles that the Shinnecock are agitated over the alleged disappearance of one of their chiefs or Trustees. "A majority of the tribe opposed the sale of the Shinnecock Hills to Mr. Corbin and his syndicate, but the Trustees paid no attention to their objections.. It is said that the chief who has left for parts unknown pocketed most of the money paid for the hills— about $20,000. The members of the tribe question the validity of the sale and will probably bring suit against Mr. Corbin for the recovery of their property. It is said that the missing chief is in Canada." ("Long island," New York Times, Jan. 24, 1885: 8.)

In a similar vein, the New York State Indian Reports (1889, No. 51: 54) state that the Shinnecock "...have a claim to and are in possession of 50 acres of woodland in Southampton, purchased by the tribe many years ago, which their trustees assumed to sell to a Benjamin Carpenter, about 1883, and which sale they allege to be invalid, due to lack of authority in the trustees of the tribe to sell their land.

The conflicting forces at work can be seen in the information that "An old case which the Shinnecock Indians through their Trustees have had in the courts for several years has made opportunity for a sensational news item in the city and local papers. The Indians think they have a vested right in the property known as the Shinnecock Hills. When the sale was made they were not consulted or recognized. They are poor and have little means of continuing a law suit. A short time ago they sold a small piece of woodland near Good Ground and concluded to apply the purchase money to the payment of legal fees and costs in the prosecution of their case." (Sag Harbor Corrector, Feb. 7, 1885: 3) [It is not clear if this woodland is related to either the West Woods tract on the 1916 and 1929 maps or the parcel discussed in the Manley article.]