Reuben, the Name Giver, walked across a field in Farmington, Connecticut with his Sagamore sons, Bill and Barney. It was the summer of 1946, a year after the War ended. As they went, a meteor streaked overhead. Reuben said "He's coming." Turning to the younger son, Barney, Reuben told him what to call his grandson. Barney objected. The name was too high faluting and, besides, it was Lakota. Reuben insisted, telling them other things about his future grandson.
Reuben [Richard Reuben Lewis] was the youngest child of Eliza Jane Kelley and RIchard Reuben Lewis. Richard, the son of a Meherrin leader in Virginia, had been twice kidnapped and enslaved, before escaping to Canada and then settling in Farmington, home of the Watunxis, where he worked at Mrs. Porter's School as a janitor and played the local church organ. Eliza Jane, keeper of the eleven burial grounds of Farmington, was the daughter of Annie Hill of Sharon and William Kelley from a town north of Farmington. Richard was Eliza's second mate. Her first, Charles Manuel of Massachusetts served in the Union Army during the Civil War, as did her cousin Jeremiah Hill.
Farmington was originally settled by families of the M'hicanuk proper and Esopus from what is now the Kingston, NY area prior to the Haudenosaunee deciding to be peaceful. Both groups needed more room for their expanding populations. The M'hicanuk had moved as far north as they could along the M'hicanituk. The Esopus, originally part of the Munsee, were also looking for more space. Both groups agreed to move together to the Tunxis Sepoo.
At the signing of the Treaty of Farmington with the English in 1640, among the signers were people from 34 different indigenous nations. They were all part of the Watunxis.
Reuben walked on in October 1946 and is buried on Watuk, aka Staten Island.
In Brooklyn, she began looking for him in the spring of 1947. She had five or six clues. He would be born in August or September of 1947. His family name would begin with "L". His last name would be Italian. He would be American Indian and would write music. There was something else but it was always just outside her consciousness.
Frances went into labor around 9 AM on the morning of August 19. As the birth was to be at home, the mid wife was called. Frances was 34 and this was her first born. The mid wife stayed with Frances most of the day and night and into the next day. Frances was exhausted from struggling to push the baby out. It was afternoon when Dr. Pontis was called. He hurried over, took one look at Frances and called for an ambulance. Frances was rushed to Fordham Hospital. She would later tell her son and daughter-in-law that she saw snow out the window of the ambulance on the way to the hospital. At 9 PM on August 21, he entered this world, via cesarean section, weighing 9 pounds, too big for his mother. Frankie would birth no other.
His version of how he came into this life was that he was enjoying himself, lying on a comfortable velvet couch, being fed grapes by a beautiful woman, when a call went out for volunteers. He responded and the next he knew - he was here.
Since Reuben, his paternal grandfather, had walked on the previous October, Pop agreed to call him by the name Reuben had given him the prior summer. However, in registering the birth at Fordham hospital, the space for his given name was left blank because no one knew how to spell it.
When mother and baby came home from the hospital, Aunt Nellie, Frances's younger sister, immediately dubbed him "Brother" [Komote]. He was called this by family and the Kingsbridge neighbors for the rest of his life, becoming "Uncle Brother" to the younger ones as he entered his teens.
Granny, Languages and Health
From the beginning, Granny [paternal grandmother Lucy Davis Lewis] spoke with him in Ojibwe, Pop [Bernard Aloysius Livingstone Lewis, Barney for short] spoke in M'hicanu and Frankie [Sarah Frances Thompson Lewis] in Chickahominy. His older sister Barbara Ann spoke Ojibwe. Pop did not understand Ojibwe very well but Pop and Frankie understand each other and Frankie understood Lucy. Lucy understood everybody. Years later when Brother was asked who he learned a particular fact from, he simply recalled what language he learned it in.[
Many living in the Kingsbridge Terrace luxury apartment building, survivors of the European concentration camps, spoke Yiddish.
When Frankie and Pop had to leave him home, he was left in the care of Grandma Riny who spoke Hebrew and Yiddish with him. To his delight, she played hand games, like patty-cake, with him, and sang to him in Ukrainian and Russian.
Grandma Riny also taught him to play checkers and chess. He learned early that she always won. His strategy quickly became to last as long as possible and he could play a game for hours.
Irene and Louis Cresnov
Irene had taught Math at the university level in Russia in the days of the Czar, a relative. She was imprisoned during the Revolution, escaped with the help of family servants, who always dressed in black, and fled to Germany where she met and married Louis. Louis was the town's mayor on Crystal Nacht and was imprisoned by the Nazis that night. Irene was also imprisoned within a few days. She kept herself alive by playing chess, checkers and cards with the SS guards. She always won. Louis was rescued by the same group who had gotten Irene out of Russia. Irene was carried out, still sleeping on her pillow, They were smuggled to England and then America, along with their furniture and other possessions. They settled in the Valentine Avenue section of the Bronx.
Irene played cards with Frankie and Arthur's [the agent] mother.
They went to family gatherings, known to the public as powwows, every summer. The women made his regalia. He wore a green shirt made by Frankie with a white collar beaded by Lucy. He also had white mocs that went half way up his legs, like sock slippers, completely beaded, with symbols, such as lightning, in black, red and yellow by Granny.
Lucy taught him to dance by having him stand on her feet as she danced. He also learned by observing cousin Owl Feather, a champion dancer. However, when Owl Feather was 17, he was badly beaten by some men. The injuries were so bad that Owl Feather never danced again. Strong Horse also taught Komote drumming, dancing and other things.
At one point, Brother and Barbara Ann were sent to stay with relatives in Canada for several months until it was safe for them to return home. No one spoke English in the village where they stayed. Years later he met a family from that village while visiting William Commanda. They recognized each other.
As an infant and child, Brother gave the family many scares by being so sick that he slipped into comas and was hospitalized. Fortunately, Pop had saved Dr. Pontus' life and both the doctor and his wife were the family's physicians until Brother was in his twenties. They were excellent doctors and did whatever was necessary to keep Brother breathing, most often by modifying his diet. He had the usual childhood diseases but they were often life threatening leaving him comatose for weeks. And he had rare conditions. One remedy not readily available outside the family was kickapoo juice. There are 2 varieties: the brown and the green. Both were so awful tasting that Brother would rather go to school sick than stay home and be forced to have some kickapoo juice. They were extremely effective.
When Frankie's brother Richard was dying of pneumonia, the tub was cleaned out, lined with clean sheets and filled with ice. Then Uncle Richard was placed in the tub and given kickapoo juice. Within 24 hours he was feeling a little tired but walking around as normal.
One of the earliest health crises was due to Brother being bit by a spider [unknown while he lived]. This resulted in a life long blood disorder which left him with low energy at times, and eventually led to his death.
He had seizures, off and on, from infancy. One effect of seizures is glutathione depletion. Spinach and tomatoes are two foods which he could eat that replenish qlutathione and they were prescribed, but he developed an uncommon reaction to tomatoes as a pre-teen which complicated this.
Music, singing and dancing, especially powwow dancing, re-energized him and kept him going. The connection with Mother Earth was essential to his well being.
Healing Nature of Food
That food was key to Brother's survival became obvious early in life. It was determined that Brother needed wheat bran and wheat germ, pistachios, etc, as well as the spinach and tomatoes to live.
There were many foods that he could not eat and he had an uncommon way of short circuiting the problem. Whenever he attempted to eat food unacceptable to his body, it was immediately ejected the same way it went in. He never tried such foods twice.
Anything with corn starch, all shell fish, "wet" meat, muffins, most cooked vegetables, etc. were ejected. That corn starch was a problem wasn't recognized until he was an adult. It was only known that he couldn't eat Chinese food, pies, puddings, certain cakes, gravies and sauces, etc. Once, it was deduced that corn starch was a problem, he tried a few foods made without it at home and found he could eat them. But he didn't try many. Old habits die hard.
Knowing he rejected castor oil, someone still tried to give it to him by hiding it in a dish of ice cream. His normal reaction made him very upset until he was reassured that someone had put castor oil in the ice cream, and that ice cream was still safe to eat.
Other foods, he could eat in only one form, or only one part, or only one brand. For example, ham had to be fried until it was literally "sweet" and this without adding any sugar, molasses, mustard or any other substance. Bacon had to be crisp. Meat had to be dry and well done, never "wet". No beef except hamburgers and "all beef" hot dogs, especially his favorite, Nathan's. Only as an adult could he eat well done pieces of thin steak. No lamb. Only southern fried chicken wings, and then only occasionally. Absolutely no turkey. Whole branches of the family had trouble with turkey. However, he had no trouble eating processed meat with all the added chemicals.
His family's biscuits and rolls were okay, but no muffins, and no biscuits made by others. He thrived on processed foods, the more processed the better. In school, he often had milk and as many pieces of cellophane wrapped pound cake [icing free] as he could buy for a dollar as lunch because it was the only thing he could eat. He ate any ripe melon and most ripe fruits put in front of him but could not eat most cooked fruits. Many cooked roots and most nuts were acceptable. However, vegetables were a mixed bag. Some he could only eat cooked; others, such as carrots and onions, only raw. Pistachios and pop corn, grapes, water melon, honey dew, french fries, tomatoes, american and mozarella cheese, and cole slaw were staples; raisin bran and wheat germ a must, and whipped cream a favorite. Honey was an absolute no-no.
He ate spinach the same way Popeye did, straight out of the can, by the can. He could not eat it fresh.
By age 6, he could lift metal garbage cans full of incinerator ash and metal, weighing about 200 lbs. each, and carry them out to the cart from the basement for Pop to pull out front and place at the curb. Pop called him Hercules.
He loved to play in the green, leafy stuff that grew down the block, with his dog, Corny. When he tired, he'd curl up and take a nap in the green stuff, hidden from the view of passers-by. In the beginning, other little children played with him, but only once. They would develop terrible rashes and their parents forbade them to play with him which he thought was unfair and which upset him. Turned out the beautiful green, leafy stuff was poison ivy.
As many other children of the time, Brother and his playmates played Cowboys and Indians. However, there was one major difference. The Indians always won. Komote insisted.
Occasionally, he got into fights with his playmates. If he was losing, however, he would pick up a rock and throw it, usually with deadly aim. He always got in trouble for this and tried to restrain himself, but, like most of his family, he was quick tempered and defended himself when cornered.
He also quickly picked up his father's penchant for defending "the underdog", especially in unprovoked physical confrontations. It was Pop's habit to follow Brother at a discreet distance to see what he did. One day, when Brother was about five, some older Heathies were picking on a smaller boy. Pop followed as Brother chased them back down the stairs to Heath Avenue, where the Heathies continued the fight with Brother. Brother was holding his own for a while but when he picked up a rock, Pop pushed Brother aside, and knocked out the Heathies with a single punch each. Then, Pop and Brother climbed the stairs back up to Kingsbridge Terrace.
Brother was sent to learn Aikaido with a Korean woman. She had lived in Korea during the Japanese occupation and could speak Japanese. She taught in Japanese. The family wanted him to learn the martial arts so he would not kill anyone. One of the requirements for being a candidate for "peace" Sagamore is that a person has not killed anyone. The principal of Aikaido is to be like grass. When grass is stepped on, it bounces back. Sometimes, it merely bends to one side or another. The grass is never permanently hurt.
Unfortunately, his Korean teacher was lured back to Korea with a promise of personal safety and was killed on a visit to her home town.
He continued his martial arts training with other masters, earning the red belt and becoming a Grand Master in Aikaido at Madison Square Gardens in his 21st year.
The Sagamore's Children
Granny had three children with her first mate, Larkin Dixon. Ruth was the daughter of Granny's eldest daughter Lucy Dixon, also known as "Juice". Juice, while working as a maid, had become pregnant by a son of her employers. Ruth was born in Hartford, Connecticut and appeared to be a "white" baby. So, the family decided to send her to live with a family of dark skinned relatives, a couple with three sons, in the 1930s, in the South, because it was safer.
When she grew up, Ruth married an Ojibwe, Kelley Lauray. Together, they had 10 children. All except the first, Ruth, were born in Hartford. The 9th child was registered as Barbara ....., listed as born in New York CIty in 1945, the daughter of Frances and Barney Lewis. The 10th child was registered as Francis Bernard Lewis, also listed as born in NYC, in 1946, and the son of Frances and Barney. He was nicknamed "Tootie". Both lived from infancy with Barney and Frances so they would not be taken from Ruth and Kelley.
However, when Frances became pregnant, "Tootie" was sent to live with Frances' mother in Glasgow, VA and grew up thinking he was the child of Frances' older sister Lucy.
A few years after Brother was born, Ruth and her first 8 children also came to live at Kingsbridge Terrace. Pop built another apartment in the basement of the 72 family building, opposite his own for his niece Ruth whose health was failing, and they all became the Sagamore's "children".
After school, the children gathered in a circle in the living room to learn the traditional ways. As soon as he was old enough, Brother joined the family circle with Barbara Ann and his cousins, Ruth and Kelley's children.
Since he was to be the Owaya Sagamore, the war leader, he was expected to know all the answers. If he didn't know an answer, it was a whack to the back of the head. His adult cousin Billy [William Morris Lewis], who was to succeed his father, Uncle Bill [William Kelley Lewis], as the Peace Sagamore, was treated the same way. This method of training was effective but may have been detrimental as both Brother and Pop suffered seizures.
Instructing children in a circle was also a custom on the various reserves, such as St. Regis, and Brother participated when the family visited relatives. The children, wearing their best clothes, would gather around an elder, sitting in a circle. Some of the children, including Brother, would wear regalia as this was an important event. The elder would tell stories and explain things, usually in the local language which Brother easily picked up.
Riding the RailroadMoma [Frankie's mother, Maggie Norris Thompson] came from Glasgow for a visit when Brother was about four. At the end of Maggie's visit, the family took her to Penn Station to catch the train home to Glasgow. Frankie had made a basket of chicken and biscuits to eat on the train. As they boarded the train to settle Moma in, Brother carried the food basket onto the train to Maggie's seat and sat there quietly holding the basket. When the last boarding call came, Barney and Frankie hurried off the train. Everyone forgot about Brother. He sat silently with Maggie as she was waving good-bye at the window. It wasn't until the train pulled out of the station and was going under the Hudson River that Moma realized that he not supposed to be with her. Barney and Frankie were frantic but Brother enjoyed the train ride. He was young enough to ride for free, had fun with the conductor, ate biscuts and chicken wings. The engineer let Brother sit with him and blow the whistle. Pop had to take the next train to Glasgow to bring Brother back and he again got to ride with the engineer in the locomotive.
Pop: Owaya Sagamore
Barney was the superintendent for the apartment building and had helped other men in the family get similar jobs. He was a shop steward for Local 32E, Building Supers and Porters when Henry Chartier was president. When Brother was a toddler, Pop pushed him in a carriage on the picket line during a labor strike. When Barney spoke of his concern as to how long the union members could sustain the picketing, Brother suggested to Pop that it be done in shifts, half at night, and half during the day. Pop thought this was a good idea, tried it, and the strike was successful.
Barney, as the Owaya Sagamore, was the public face of the people. Since Reuben had said the son was to succeed the father, Brother was raised to be known for whom he was among the people. It is not usual among the M'heakannuck to presume a child will take a certain path, nor a leadership position. However, in Brother's case, Reuben's predictions indicated that he should be trained from birth for his role instead of waiting until he had reached his 6th or 7th winter, as was commonly done.
Also, since they were M'heakannuck Bear clan, clan was not strictly inherited through the mother, although both Barney and Frankie were Bear clan. This was also uncommon, as one did not marry someone of the same clan. Children of Bear clan members were exceptions. The Europeans in the 16th and 17th centuries were not aware that the M'heakannuk followed a practice, similar to European royalty, of keeping the leadership roles in the family, that is, the Bear clan. All the M'heakannu Sagamores, from what was to become Maine to New Jersey, were closely related prior to the European influx. Not only were they often first cousins and/or siblings, but they also kept in close touch. For example, Oritam, leader of the Hackensack, was brother to Pinowits, leader of the Carnarsie. Their father had adopted Pinowits as a youth.
Nor were they aware, that the indigenous people in what is today known as New England were the bird tribes of the M'heakannuck, the Pinacook. Except, that is, for the Pequots who were a mixture of Mayan and Mikasuki and had migrated north through the Mississippi Valley before settling in what became Connecticut several thousand years before the European influx.
The Sagamore's responsibilty.
He traveled with Pop, visiting family and supers, many of whom were also family, all over New York CIty and Long Island. As the Owaya Sagamore, Barney visited all the people on a regular basis, to see that everyone was okay and that they had whatever was needed. When he went to a house, everyone would sit around, talking and telling Barney the news about the family, including what was needed in their households. Barney would sit quietly, listening and asking questions. Barney would then see that everything was taken care of. Pop sometimes did the plumbing himself, but usually had someone else take care of most of the repair work. Pop handled all matters dealing with outsiders. No one ever asked him to do anything as this was simply not done. And one does not tell a Sagamore what to do.
Sagamores provide for their people without monetary compensation.
One day, a Bronx neighbor came to Barney for help. The neighbor had borrowed money and even though the man was making weekly payments, it wasn't getting paid off. The original amount was still owed and he couldn't afford to pay more. Pop put on his regalia and went to see the Don. The two men sat down and talked. It was agreed that the neighbor would continue to make weekly payments until the $10,000 debt was paid off with no further interest payment. It was also agreed that no future loans would be made to Barney's neighbors or family.
On one visit to Long Island, a Shawnee woman gifted Brother with a 300 pound pull bow that she had made for him. Brother managed to pull the string back enough to let the arrow fly into the trunk of a distant tree, having first gone through a hat on a man's head, pinning the hat to the tree. The man was really upset until he learned it was Barney's boy. Then everything was okay. It was Barney's Boy. The bow was taken from Brother for safety reasons and Brother never saw it again.
This was what usual happened with nearly all the presents Brother received, even toys. He might have them for a day. More often, it was only a few hours. Then the gifts were sent to relatives who needed or could use them. Brother began to salvage toys from the incinerator ash and fix them up, finding missing parts and painting them as he did with model cars. Sometimes, even these were sent away.
It is the custom of M'heakannuck, as with other first Americans, to keep an item gifted to one for at least a year as a sign of one's respect and gratitude.
This is not true for Sagamores. It is the primary responsibility of the Sagamore to see that the people have whatever they need. The Sagamore is the custodian of the people's goods, owning nothing himself but his clothes and his tools. This is why the Dutch thought Sagamores were rich and lived in "castles". The "castles" were the storehouses for the people's goods. Whenever anyone needed something, it was provided from the storehouse. Visitors were also taken care of in this way.
Brother's gifts were given away because giving a child's toys and presents away almost immediately helps him to be able to do this painlessly as an adult without any emotional attachment. A Sagamore may give something he has just received to the next person he sees, regardless of the sentimental or monetary value of the gift.
These items to be sent to others would be wrapped. Then Pop would draw in the upper right hand corner of the package. Brother, and sometimes his "twin'' Jean [Jean Kelley Lewis], Uncle Bill's first born, would take them to the post office which always accepted them without asking for postage. The U. S. Post Office even deliverd packages through enemy lines to the Seminole in Florida.
Franklin's Postal Service
This was possible for the M'hicanuk had served as George Washington's Postal Service under Ben Franklin during the Revolutionary War period, carrying messages back and forth to the Congress in Philadelphia, as well as to and from all of Washington's forces. Some continued in this capacity after the hostilities ceased.
For millenia, every M'hicanu leader has had two "runners" which is how they keep in touch over long distances. In modern times, however, driving, flying and other means have replaced most of the running but M'hicanuk are long distance runners and world class sprinters to this day.
M'hicanuk have an ancient story as to why this is so.
Long Distance Runners
Long, long ago in the swirling mists of time, our people knew that our land would soon be submerged under water. So advance people were sent out to find a suitable place to which we could move. Such a place was found at a distance to the northwest. There was a large river just like the one at home. which flowed both ways. It was decided to make this our new home. So we packed up our things: clothes, books, tools, instruments, seeds, plants and household goods. Goodbyes were said to those staying behind and we moved to the mouth of the M'heakannituck, the river which ebbs and flows, for we are the people of the ebb and flow. We settled in, erecting houses and buildings, planting crops and exploring the area. [This river, millenia later, has come to be known as the Hudson River.]
All went well for a while.
Then one day it happened. What had been forseen came to pass.
There was a huge upheaval in the energy. Then silence.
We knew we would never see our homeland again, nor those who had remained there. And we lost our source of power
Everyone was terribly depressed. The women knew the people had to keep going for we had been charged with remembering for all future generations. So, the women sang songs and told jokes and stories to keep up our spirits and those of our children.
But the men were unconsolable. They sat and laid around all day. The women tried to get the men to do things. The men were urged to hunt but the men were too tired. And they tried to get the men to fish but the men fell in.
Then one day, a man laying under a tree noticed a deer run by. The next day, the deer again ran by. The man began to look for the deer to come again, One day, the man sat upright. A day soon after, the man turned his head to follow the deer with his eyes. Not long after, when the deer ran past, the man stood up. The following day, he got up and took a step. The day after, he took a few steps. Soon, the man was walking after the deer. Then came the day he began running after the deer. During this time, he was being joined by other men, first one, then a few, then a group, all running after the deer.
Then came the day when the man caught the deer.
Everyone was very happy and there was a big feast.
The men began to do other things but they never stopped running.
Which is appropriate, for the end of the story of how we came to be here is:
"And here we stayed. For we do not like to walk."
And this is how the M"heakannuck became world class sprinters and long distance runners.
One day an older boy called him "Captain" as a sign of respect. Brother, however, not knowing this, beat him up. The boy told his parents and they came to see Pop. It was known among the people that Brother was to be Sagamore and it was explained to Brother that this was one of his titles and he had erred. To make amends, he took some of the money out of his jar and bought some model ships for the boy, enough to keep him busy for about 6 months. Granny helped him wrap the ships and he presented them to the boy, apologizing for his ignorance and disrespect.
Brother earned money by helping anyone who asked. People would give him whatever tip they thought appropriate. He was always thankful. He carried groceries from the store and up stairs, walked dogs, went to the store, helped delivery men and neighbors unload, etc. One day, Frankie came across a jar in his closet. She looked around his room and found some other jars under the bed. She asked Brother about it. He told her it was money he had earned helping neighbors. She counted his money. It totaled over a thousand dollars which was more than Pop made in a year as the building super. Some of Brother's money was used to pay off the finance company. Some went to pay for a cataract operation for Moma. The remainder was put in a joint account with Frankie at the North Savings Bank, an account still active when he moved from The Bronx to Rahway at age 30.
And he quickly earned more.
The summer before Lucy walked on, Pop and Frankie took her to visit Frankie's mother Maggie in Glasgow, Virginia. Frankie's father was Meherrin [Harvey Grissom THompson] and Lucy wanted to discuss the Meherrin side of the family with Maggie.
They stopped to eat along the way. When Pop paid the bill, he was given incorrect change, but had trouble counting his change and went out to the car, not knowing whether it was correct or not, and without saying anything. In the car, Lucy counted Pop's change for him, chided him in Ojibwe and smacked him in the back of the head for allowing himself to be cheated. This made Brother laugh to see Pop being treated the same way he was in the family circle. He understood Granny, whereas Pop did not, although Pop knew the reason for the smack. Pop went back inside and got the correct change.
While Brother had an even harder time counting change than Pop, he always knew if the change he received was correct but could not explain it.
First Hair Cut
Brother had long, straight black hair which he usually wore braided. It had never been cut. That is, until one day Pop decided he needed a haircut since he was starting school. Pop took a bowl, placed it on Brother's head, and trimmed the hair off below the bowl. Both Lucy and Frankie were very upset and angry with Pop. He was in the dog house for weeks. And Brother's hair was no longer straight.
Brother was enrolled in Kindergarten at P.S. 86. He went to school dressed in native garb, skins and mocs, which was his normal learning clothes in the family circle and on the various reserves. However, this was not acceptable to the school authorities who expected regular clothes. After much back forth talk between his parents and the school officials, a compromise was reached. He would wear a white shirt, black pants and boots. He never wore shoes.
He also did not speak English. There was a Mohawk boy in class with him who translated for him. He also used sign language and could easily communicate with the deaf. And he was called "dummy".
This was also the first time he was called "Barney", the name finally put on his birth certificate. However, he didn't respond when called "Barney" and when asked why, he said it wasn't his name. When asked what his name was, he sometimes said "Dummy" and sometimes "Stupid".
When Pop was 47 and Brother was five years, five months and two days old, Granny walked on. This devasted the entire family, especially Pop, and left a huge whole in Brother's life. It was the only time he ever saw Pop cry.
And he always remembered what life was like outside of this one for he was forever 5.