School Photos, circa 1926

Grade One

Grade One, teacher Anna Dix

Grade Two

Grade Two, teacher Florence Salisbury Payne

Grade Three

Grade Three, teacher Margaret Witherhead

Grade Four

Grade Four, teacher Alzina Clapp Loveless

Grade Five

Grade Five, with teacher Mrs. Irving Smith absent from photo

Grade Six

Grade Six, teacher Mazie Harrington Burke

These may have been taken in 1926; if anyone can date them accurately, let me know.


Events of Childhood

West Lake from the West

In Red Indian Experiences, DeCost Smith wrote about Onondaga Indians coming to his boyhood home on what is now West Lake Street. (The Smith home is in the center of the photo above, taken circa 1850, seen across the fields from the west.)

“…in the late eighteen-sixties, I saw my first Indians, Old Cynthia and Dji-ga-na-yo’-za, Onondaga women from the Castle, eighteen miles away, who came to the kitchen door in those fine days of autumn or early spring to sell their fancy baskets, beaded wall pockets, and pincushions; coarse beads coarsely worked over paper designs on black velvet, but to me, in those days, very Indian. It was one of those exciting events of childhood which left an impression more vivid with me than the periodic visit of the tin peddler, or the rarer organ grinder and his monkey–Cynthia with her cherubic face and gray hair, Dji-ga-na-yo’-za, younger, with her large pack basket and its burden strap, the leggings of both women showing below their calico skirts.

“Once, when I was too young to remember, the younger woman had brought her small infant swaddled in its wrappings on a papoose board, with the thin, flat bow of hickory from which hung a silk handkerchief to shield the baby’s eyes from the sun. Next year she came without the baby, and when my father asked, ‘Where is the papoose?’ he received the laconic, but tearful answer, ‘Pig eat ’em.’ It seems that on one of her basket-peddling expeditions the mother had gone into a farmhouse near Oneida, leaving the baby on its board leaning against a tree, where some pigs found it and tore it to pieces.”

*   *   *

“The Castle” was the name for the Onondaga Reservation during DeCost Smith’s youth; it is today the present site of Nedrow.

On Freedom

Smith House for DeCost

In I Used to Be Charming: The Rest of Eve Babitz, I was reading a chapter called “Santa Fe: Angels We Have Heard on High,” wherein Babitz recommended Son of the Morning Star: Custer and The Little Bighorn, as “the greatest book of American history ever attempted.” Because she is always right, I read that, too. To my surprise, Evan S. Connell, the author, quoted DeCost Smith six times, prompting me to re-read Smith’s Red Indian Experiences. Smith grew up on West Lake Street, and like his father, Reuel Smith, who spent time living with natives in Chile, he was drawn to the wilderness, in his case, the American West. With his brother, Leslie, he traveled widely and, being an artist as well as a writer, he drew and painted many of the native Americans he met and came to know.

DeCost Indian

Things can strike one differently at different times, and on this reading a quote jumped out at me as being especially timely. In a chapter called “Lone-Hand Warfare,” Smith wrote:

“As far back as a hundred years ago our government was vainly trying to guard a line a thousand miles long to prevent unauthorized whites from entering Indian lands. Naturally the effort was futile. Trappers, hunters, traders, adventurers, and fugitives from justice evaded the regulations, and once beyond the frontier were a law unto themselves, for there was no one to restrain or protect, and some needed restraint far more than protection. In this great land of freedom every man’s right to do as he pleased was limited only by the equally valid right of others to do the same.”