Defenders of the Indians

by Robert D. Waxham

History shows that at least two members of the Waxham family have made a distinct effort to uphold the rights of Native Americans. We have a copy of a petition addressed to the U. S. Congress signed by early residents of Chautauqua County, New York, opposing forced evacuation of the Seneca Indians from the area. The second signatory in the group of 24 (all men of course) petitioners was James Waxham, one of the four brothers who came over from England in the 1830s to plant the Waxham surname in America.

The petition, recorded February 23, 1841 as Senate Document 214, appeals to the federal government to not enforce a treaty with the Senecas requiring them to sell their homeland and move west. The petition points out that the Senacas never gave their assent to the treaty, a precondition established by Senate resolution, and therefore that forcible removal would be contrary to the honor of the United States. The petition was apparently successful since even today there is a Seneca reservation on the northeastern border of Chautauqua County.

The acorn didn’t fall far from the tree. The Rockford (Illinois) Daily Register of April 6, 1888 has a historical note recounting a social meeting held in the fall of 1876 by a group of local farm families. The program for the meeting was a debate on the subject: Resolved, that the Indians should be exterminated. Two men took the affirmative side of the proposition; two young ladies upheld the negative. One of the two who defended the right of Native Americans to keep on living was Sarah Celeste Waxham, the 15-year-old granddaughter of petition signer James Waxham. The news account adds that the girls won the debate.

The image of this happy little group sitting comfortably in a living room sipping coffee and munching ginger snaps while debating whether or not to slaughter thousands of men, women, and children is indeed shocking. We will never know what caused these folks to select such a gruesome topic to discuss. Perhaps General Custer’s fatal engagement at Little Big Horn a few months earlier had something to do with it. At least, our family’s only participant in this bone-chilling debate was on the right side.