How Chief Red Jacket Got His Name
The name Red Jacket, so familiar to the whites, was acquired during the war of the Revolution. He was distinguished at this time as well as afterward, for his fleetness on foot, his intelligence and activity. Having attracted the attention of a British officer by the vivacity of his manners, and the speedy execution of those errands with which he was intrusted, he received either in token of admiration, or for services rendered, or both, a beautifully ornamented jacket of a scarlet color.
This he took pride in wearing, and when worn out, he was presented with another, and continued to wear this peculiar dress until it became a mark of distinction, and gave him the name by which he was afterward best known. At a treaty held at Canandaigua in 1794, Captain Parrish, who was for many years agent of the United States for the Indians, presented him with another red jacket to perpetuate a name of which he was particularly fond. [Footnote: McKenney's Indian Biography Politely favored by Alfred B. Street, Esq., and assistant Mr. J. H. Hickox, of the State Library, Albany, N. Y.]
His original name was Oti-ti-ani, always ready. Sa-go-ye-wat-ha, the title conferred upon him at his election to the dignity of Sachem, has been rendered, "The keeper awake, he keeps them awake, and the author, or cause of a wakeful spirit." [Footnote: This latter translation was given to the author by the late Wm. Jones, a half-blood, son-in-law of Red Jacket and a chief of some note. This interpretation was given to some gentlemen from Buffalo who proposed to erect a monument at Red Jacket's grave. It was given in a full council of the chiefs of his tribe.]
The name is connected with a curious superstition among his people, and will best be understood, by an acquaintance with the circumstances under which it is used.
If during the still hours of night, an Indian's mind is taken up with thoughts that cause sleep to pass from him, preventing every effort of Morpheus to lock him in fond embrace, he ascribes it to a spirit, which he calls Sa-go-ye-wat-ha.
The impressions made are regarded as ominous of some important event, joyful or otherwise, according to the feelings awakened. If his thoughts are of a pleasing nature, he is led to anticipate the occurrence of some joyful event. If they are of a melancholy turn, he regards it as foreboding evil.
He may be led to dwell with interest on some absent friend; that friend he will expect to see the next day, or soon after. Yet should his thoughts be troubled or anxious, he would expect to hear soon of that friend's death, or that something evil had befallen him. [Footnote: Conversation with Wm. Jones, Seneca chief.]
Such was the spirit they called Sa-go-ye-wat-ha. He could arrest the current of their thought, bring before them visions of delight, or send upon them melancholy reflections, and fill their minds with anxiety and gloom.
This title conferred on Red Jacket, while it indicated the cause of his elevation, presented the highest compliment that could be paid to his powers of oratory. By the magic spell of his words, he could control their minds, make their hearts beat quick with emotions of joy, or send over them at will the deep pulsations of grief.
The incident referred to as giving rise to the name, Red Jacket, introduces him in connection with the war of the Revolution. As his conduct during this period has been the subject of frequent remark, severely criticised by some, and not very favorably viewed by others, justice to the orator's memory requires a brief statement of his reasons for the course he pursued.
While thoughts of this contest were pending, the colonists took measures to secure the favorable disposition of the Iroquois, and these efforts at the time were successful.
The general government advised them to remain neutral, during the anticipated conflict. This course met the approval of their most considerate sachems. For though inured to war, and apt to enter with avidity into the excitement of a conflict, their forces had been reduced by recent encounters with the Indians at the west, and south, and also with the French; and the few intervening years of peace served to convince them of its value, and caused them to receive with favor this proposition from our government.