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Seneca: Keepers of the Western Door



(from the book, "Kinzua, from Cornplanter to the Corps")


• The Tuscarora Indians, refugees from North Carolina, became the sixth member of the Iroquois Confederacy, under the sponsorship of the Oneida Indians.


• Cornplanter was born around this date near what is now present-day Avon, New York. His mother was a Seneca of the Wolf Clan. Cornplanter’s father was John O’Bail (Abeel), a white man from a prominent Dutch family.


• First Treaty of Fort Stanwix when the Ohio River was designated as the boundary Indian and non-Indian settlements. Following the American Revolution the Iroquois were determined to keep the Ohio River as a permanent boundary between invaders and the indigenous populations. People of the Ohio River Valley had not yet seen homes and fields invaded by Europeans, as some of the Seneca, Cayuga, and Onondga Nations had experienced.


• July 1, Oswego, the Seneca decided to side with the British in the colonial struggle for independence. By daring acts of courage and leadership, Cornplanter emerged as a principle War Chief in the Iroquois Confederacy.


• Revolutionary War generals, Sullivan and Clinton, campaigned against the Iroquois Nation, specifically the Seneca and Cayuga in the scorched earth march of 1779. They were joined by Brodhead, who ascended the Allegheny River from Pittsburgh into Seneca lands in northwestern Pennsylvania and southwestern New York.


• Paris Peace Treaty, signed September 9. American and British delegations met in Paris, France, where Great Britain recognized the independence of the United States.


• Cornplanter is a principle negotiator at Fort Stanwix (now Rome, New York) where the Iroquois Confederacy (Six Nations) and the United States made peace following the American Revolution. The Seneca ceded nearly a million acres of their homeland to the United States-without compensation-at this treaty negotiation. Also at this time, Pennsylvania purchased the remaining Iroquois lands in the Commonwealth.


• Cornplanter is a principle negotiator at Fort Harmar (now Marietta, Ohio) where the Seneca supported the United States against the Indians of the Northwest Territory. The Iroquois present at these treaty negotiations agreed to sell the Erie Triangle for $2,000 worth of goods. At this time, Cornplanter thought that the fortunes and future of his people lay with the new government.


• Cornplanter had extensive visits to Philadelphia to protest continued intrusion into Iroquois lands.


• Land grants of Planters Field, including the two large river islands of Liberality and Donation, Richland, and the Gift to Seneca Chief Cornplanter and his heirs “for his valuable services to the whites.”


• Battle of Fallen Timbers-now diplomacy was the only tool left the Iroquois for peaceful negotiations with the whites and their ever-increasing westward expansion.

• Pickering Treaty of 1794. Colonel Pickering, George Washington’s envoy to the Iroquois Confederacy, made this historic treaty with the Six Nations. At Canandaigua, the Six Nations gathered to ratify the treaty. This treaty played a pivotal role in the controversy surrounding the building of Kinzua Dam and the Allegheny Reservoir.


• First Quakers arrived at the Cornplanter Grant on the upper Allegheny River. The estimated population at the Grant was four hundred Cornplanters living in thirty houses. These numbers are from A Nineteenth- Century Journal of a Visit to the Indians of New York, by Deardorff and Snyderman. Also included in this count were 3 horses, 14 horned cattle, 1 yoke of oxen, and 12 hogs. During this period the Allegheny River was used primarily for navigation, which included exploration, settlement, trade and commerce.


• Cornplanter visited Thomas Jefferson in Washington, D.C., to discuss Seneca land holdings.


• February 18, Cornplanter died at home on his land grant on the Allegheny River, Warren County, Pennsylvania.


• The Seneca Nation of Indians comes into formal existence following a political revolution which overthrew the corrupted chief system of government. The Seneca established a constitution, with elected officials in executive, legislative, and judiciary branches.


• Legislative Act of March 23, Congress ends treaty making with the Indians.


• Federal legislation makes all Indians U.S. citizens. The Citizenship Act of June, 1924, declared that all non-citizen Indians born within the territorial limits of the United States are citizens. The Citizenship Act was critical in the making of a 1959 Supreme Court decision regarding the taking of land from Indians. The Supreme Court concluded that Indian citizens could claim no special rights to retain their lands while the lands of other citizens were being condemned and taken as part of the Kinzua project.


• First consideration of flood control on the Allegheny River by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.


• Federal Flood Control Act. The federal role in flood control was expanded to include all navigable rivers of the nation.


• U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did the first estimate of facts on construction of Kinzua Dam and the Allegheny Reservoir.

1940 -1955

• Kinzua and upper Allegheny River flood control were not a priority due to World War II, and general public indifference to building the dam.


• Record floods in March on the Allegheny and Ohio rivers greatly revived public interest in the building of Kinzua Dam.


• January 11, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of New York upheld the government’s right to condemn land of the Seneca Nation for the proposed Kinzua project.

• January 21, the U.S. Court of Appeals denied a petition of the Seneca Indians for a stay of the order of condemnation and possession of Seneca land previously granted to the federal government.

• U.S. Army Corps of Engineers agrees to have an independent engineering firm, TAMS, review the Seneca backed Morgan Plan, an alternate plan for flood control on the Allegheny and Ohio rivers. Subsequently, the Morgan Plan was rejected by the Army Corps of Engineers.


• First federal appropriation of funds secured for Kinzua Dam construction.

• April 14, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia denied the Seneca Nation’s request for an injunction to prevent the construction of Kinzua Dam and the Allegheny Reservoir.

• November 25, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia affirmed the April 14 action of the District Court in the injunction suit.


• Opposition by Seneca Nation caused Congress to freeze appropriated monies pending court action. On June 15, the Supreme Court refused a motion by the Seneca Nation for a writ of certiorari. This Supreme Court action removed the last legal obstacle for construction of the dam.


• Groundbreaking for Kinzua Dam occurred on October 22. State and federal officials broke ground in special ceremonies, which were attended by thousands of people. Ceremonies were at the western embankment site, home of the Brownell farm, which was soon to vanish.

• Village of Kinzua population: 1960, 458.

• Village of Corydon population: 1960, 165.

• 1960 census was the last official headcount in these vanished villages. Today, there are about 600 descendants of Cornplanter; the majority are enrolled members of the Seneca Nation of Indians.


• Seneca Nation makes a last ditch appeal to President John F. Kennedy for another independent study to determine possible alternatives to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers plan to flood one-third of their Allegany Reservation land. The Seneca letter of appeal was dated on George Washington’s birthday, recalling promises from colonial times.


• August 2, first concrete at the Kinzua Dam site was poured by the Hunkin-Conkey Company, Cleveland, Ohio.

• Route 59 bypass under construction by Latrobe Construction Company.

• Pennsylvania Railroad ends service along the Allegheny River road.

• Pennsylvania Electric Company (Penelec) seeks Kinzua Power Plant at site of Kinzua Dam.

• Slow death to village of Kinzua, as the government now owns much of the village.

• Jakes Rocks-recreational studies begin.

• National publicity increases on many fronts for support of Indian rights.

• Moving of graves begins in cemeteries to be flooded.

• Kinzua Post Office closed.

• Last services in Saint Luke’s Episcopal Church, village of Kinzua.


• February 18, the Allegheny River was diverted through the area that had been constructed within the first cofferdam.

• Last telephone call from Kinzua, residents take last look at Kinzua area.

• Corydon Post Office closes.

• Historical Society opens Indian mounds at Sugar Run.

• Kinzua Township to be merged with Mead Township.

• Fish hatchery creation at Kinzua Dam discussed.

• Clay seam in Kinzua Dam found.

• Corps of Engineers approves Penelec Kinzua Power Plant.

• President Johnson approves bill to continue Kinzua Dam work.


• April, a long awaited Bureau of Outdoor Recreation report was released by the Secretary of the Interior, Stewart L. Udall. The report recommended that a national recreation area NOT be established around the reservoir because the area would stop at the New York State line and would not have a national character. The Allegany Reservation of the Seneca Nation surrounds the majority of the reservoir in New York State. It was also recommended that the federal lands to be developed around the reservoir for recreation be under the administration of the U.S. Forest Service.

• May 27, it was announced that the firm of Icanda, Ltd., Montreal, Canada, had been awarded a $2.3 million contract to build a cutoff wall that would correct the seepage condition found at the dam.

• Remaining Corydon families facing imminent eviction.

• Quaker Bridge, Onoville, and Red House Post Offices close.

• U.S. Forest Service receives the okay to manage the federal Kinzua Dam lands surrounding the reservoir.

• Kiasutha recreational area work begins.

• Bumper-to-bumper traffic visits dam site.

• Rim Rock recreational area dedicated.

• Relocated Route 59 officially opened November 25.

• Kinzua Valley clearing progresses in preparation for inundation by the water of the Allegheny Reservoir.

• Corydon Township to be consolidated into Mead Township, Warren County.


• Work begins on the Penelec Kinzua Power Project. The Federal Power Commission granted a 50-year license to build and run a $40 million power plant at the dam to Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company (CEI) and Penelec.

• Fish Hatchery funds sought.

• Last concrete monolith closed at dam.


• Construction began on the Seneca Power Plant in April.

• President Johnson’s pen makes Kinzua Dam and Allegheny Reservoir name official now; bill was signed at the “Texas Whitehouse.”

• Dedication of Kinzua Dam, September 16.


• Seneca Power Plant was completed.


• Summer: due to flood control by Kinzua Dam and the Allegheny Reservoir, the financial savings from the torrential rains associated with Hurricane Agnes were estimated at $247,000,000.


• Severe corrosion of the dam’s stilling basin concrete floor had been detected. Cause was determined to be the turbulent discharges of water from the dam.


• The Allegheny Scenic Byway, a 31-mile stretch of Long House Drive, Route 59, and Route 321, was dedicated as part of the National Scenic Highway System.

• No Kinzua Resort Coalition based in Warren, Pennsylvania, vehemently opposed a plan to build a resort at Kinzua. The concept of a resort received little negative reaction before it was incorporated into the Forest Service Plans in 1987. Another round of similar conflict is certain as the Forest Service Plan is periodically revised.

• Twenty-five years after the completion of Kinzua Dam, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which operates the dam, reports that the attraction was visited by 900,000 people between October, 1989, and October, 1990. Estimates were to be at least 1 million visitors, but consistently remain less.


• As manufacturing employment declines, tourism and recreation are promoted on a local and regional basis.

• On New Year’s Day a record-breaking northern pike was caught on the Allegheny Reservoir. A Bradford, Pennsylvania, man was ice fishing on the Allegheny Reservoir and landed the 35-pound fish, which measured 48 inches long and 21 ½ inches in girth. The Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission verified it as a state record.

• July, the annual Kinzua Classic Bike Race was held with nearly 180 cyclists from Pennsylvania, New York, Ohio, and other states participating.

• Throughout northwestern Pennsylvania the U.S. Forest Service held numerous public meetings regarding updates and revisions to the Allegheny National Forest Plan.


• Northern Alleghenies Vacation Region (NAVR), Warren County’s official tourism bureau and direct marketing organization, opens a new 3,600 square-foot visitors center west of the city of Warren.

Solomon O'Bail, grandson of Cornplanter,
1895, Warren County Fair.