Monday, November 25, 2013

Burying the Hatchet: Col. John Hendy and Yawbuck

by Erin Doane, Curator

With history, generations of stories can turn a person into a legend and one may never know the real truth.  There are many colorful anecdotes about Colonel John Hendy.  Some of them may be anchored in what really happened and some may not.  Col. Hendy is said to have been the first white man to ever plant a crop of corn in Chemung County in 1789.  He was not, however, the first person to settle in the area.  Native Americans, mostly members of the Seneca tribe, had villages throughout the region before General John Sullivan destroyed most of them during his 1779 campaign.

It is a bit surprising, then, that when Hendy arrived with only a bound boy named Dan Hill that the remaining Native Americans helped him survive.  His kind and benevolent nature made it easy for him to gain their friendship and his strength and stature (he was 6”7’ tall) helped him earn their respect and the name “Shinawane” which means Great Warrior.  His new cabin became a regular stopping spot for Native Americans traveling through the area.  He would leave the door unlocked for them and let them sleep on his floor whenever they liked – even though his wife Polly was absolutely terrified by them.

Colorized postcard of Hendy’s cabin printed in 1917

Not everyone accepted Hendy as a new neighbor and friend.  Several of the stories that make up part of his history center around the famous animosity of a Native American named Yawbuck toward Hendy.  It seemed that every time the two met there was a fight.  One time, Yawbuck came to stay at the cabin for a night.  Hendy asked him to smoke the pipe of peace with him.  Yawbuck agreed but each time he scraped the stem which indicated ill will toward his host.  After sitting in silence by the fire for a bit, Yawbuck got up and attacked Hendy.  Hendy was able to fight him off and amazingly enough allowed him to stay in the cabin. Sometime later the same night Yawbuck attached Hendy again.  This time Hendy threw him down and beat his head against the floor until he had almost passed out.  Yet again, Hendy let the man stay in his cabin.  The next morning Yawbuck slipped away before everyone woke up.

Photograph of the interior of 
Hendy’s cabin taken about 1902

Two years later the two men met again when Hendy was out in the woods gathering his cows.   When Yawbuck pointed his gun at him Hendy exclaimed “will you shoot brother, the hatchet is buried.”  Yawbuck reluctantly dropped his gun, shook Hendy’s hand and walked away.  Then six years after that they had their final fight.  Both were attending a town meeting at the Court House.  Yawbuck slapped Hendy on the shoulder as though they were friends then grabbed him by the throat.  Hendy threw him off and gave him such a severe beating that Yawbuck ran away and was never seen in the area again.  We will probably never know what caused such animosity between the two men or how much truth is actually in these reported encounters but it does make for some interesting stories that help build the legend of Colonel John Hendy.

Nail from Hendy’s cabin