Oneida Marketing and Tourism Manager Michelle Danforth, Tourism Administrative Assistant Louisa Mehojah, and L. Gordon McLester III peruse some historical Oneida documents. McLester’s documents are currently being scanned and placed online for public viewing.
Photo courtesy of Leah Stroobants
The history of the Oneida Nation in Wisconsin is becoming increasingly clear thanks to the recent unveiling of thousands of documents by Oneida citizen L. Gordon McLester III. In the summer of 2018 Oneida Tourism Department employees Louisa Mehojah, Daril Peters, and Cathy Hermes began working with McLester to organize, scan, and make available online approximately two dozen boxes containing ledgers, journals, maps and much more dating from the late 18th century to the 1900s.
McLester, who has accumulated the trove of documents across his lifetime, wanted to make them viewable online for anybody who wishes to access them. The result is the newly created Full Timeline link on the ExploreOneida.com webpage under Oneida Culture and History. The Full Timeline will continue to expand and evolve as more of the documents are scanned and placed online. Due to the sheer volume of documents, the project is only about halfway to completion
“The accumulation of this information began in the mid-60s,” McLester said. “Some people may not find this to be of much value, but others may find it to be useful in doing research. A group of us formed the Oneida Indian Historical Society and we hadn’t been able to put this information into a format that is accessible by the public. (Marketing and Tourism Director) Michelle Danforth heard about the documents and offered to help get them into the proper order and placed online.”
A co-author of approximately seven books about the Oneida people who also served on the Oneida Business Committee (OBC) for many years, McLester accumulated most of these documents while researching information for the Oneida Indian Historical Society. “I served for 12 years on the OBC,” McLester said. “During that time the OBC assigned me the task of putting together Oneida history conferences and in doing the research for these conferences and books we accumulated a lot of this material. Much of this was also used to help develop a Native American history curriculum for the Seymour School District.
“In much of the early material that’s been written about the Oneida people I kept hearing the name Daniel Bread,” McLester said. “I became very intrigued with this individual so (co-author Laurence Hauptman) and I teamed up and put together the story of Chief Daniel Bread from Wisconsin, Chief Shenandoah, Chief Cornelius Hill…we’d find things that weren’t commonly known in our community but there wasn’t a place where people could go and look up this information. So that was our goal and hope with this when we hooked up with Michelle and now she’s been moving forward with it. But to do that (her staff) had to put my material in some formal order so people could access it and use it.”
Now that McLester’s educational documents are finally finding their way online, he’s been able to turn his focus to finishing yet another book which he expects will be completed by the spring of 2019. “This new book deals with the relationship between the Episcopal Church and the Oneida people of Wisconsin,” McLester said. “It’s a collaboration between myself, Laurence Hauptman, Ken House, and Judy Cornelius and the University of Indiana will be publishing it.
“Another project we’re working on is a historical overview of the Oneida Nation which will include the significance of Salt Pork Avenue and who lived there,” McLester said. “There was only one well to drink from and who were those families? Why was it called Salt Pork Avenue? Another neighborhood is Chicago Corners and who lived there? Why was it called Chicago Corners? We have people working on these and other areas of Oneida that are familiar with that history. These are some of the things we hope to have completed within the next year or so.”
The historical website will continue to expand as more of McLester’s documents are uploaded. Feel free to check them out at Exploreoneida.com. Click on Culture and History, then follow the link to Full Timeline.