Conestoga Chief — Only copy recorded

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On November 15, 1857, the Philadelphia newspaper The Press carried this notice on page two:

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The hopeful wish that the journal become “popular … profitable” clearly did not happen. No library is recorded as having a copy. Recently, a copy was found in the the Library’s Western Americana Collections. The Princeton copy was acquired on December 8, 1969 but was never entered into the Library’s main catalog. Its existence was noted only in two Princeton checklists of American Indian periodicals, one issued in 1970 and the other in 1979. (It still remains a mystery why a publication intended for a fraternal secret society of white men was included among periodicals published by or for native Americans.) Nonetheless, even though its existence was noted, it was not easily retrievable because it had no call number. During recent final days of a now completed five year campaign to box, inventory, and catalog American Indian periodicals, the Chief was found in a large, thin portfolio. During cataloging, its rarity and significance was discovered. The official record for the Chief now reads:

Title: Conestoga chief. Published/Created: Philadelphia, Pa. : H.L. Goodall, 1857. Description: v. ; 50 cm. Began with vol. 1, no. 1 (Oct. 28, 1857) Notes: “Devoted to the Improved Order of Red Men — popular literature, instruction and amusement.” Intended for weekly publication. Cf. Prospectus (vol. 1, no. 1, p. 8). No more published? Subject(s): Improved Order of Red Men —Periodicals. Related name(s): Improved Order of Red Men. Location: Rare Books: Western Americana Collection (WA) Call number: Oversize 2008-0020E

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An extract from the July 1860 issue of The Ladies Repository, (p. 412-413) tells a tale of reader reaction to the Conestoga Chief. The story is titled “Indians’ Newspaper” and appeared in column headed “Recollections of a Deaf and Dumb Teacher, by Joe, the Jersey Mute.” (Actual name of the author was Joseph Mount.)

“In November, 1857, an Indian established a weekly newspaper at Philadelphia, called the “Conestoga Chief.” I bought a copy of the Chief for the double purpose of reading the thoughts of the red men, as expressed in the columns of that paper, and of showing it to my class, which was then, as now, composed wholly of boys. They were thrown in considerable excitement at sight of the word ”Chief” printed in such large characters, not exactly knowing that it was a “real, genuine, no-mistake” newspaper. They were in hot water, some declaring that they would be tomahawked, burnt alive, and all that sort of thing, and others that they would arm themselves with axes, knives, and the like, and stand with a strong front before the red face rather than submit to the Indian mode of burning alive, of which they had heard so much. As might be expected, all the school and the paper were together by the ears. I had considerable difficulty in restoring order in the schoolroom. I explained to the excited boys that the “Chief” was got up for the purpose of giving information, the same as the other papers of which the pale-faces had charge. They were convinced of their error, and had the magnanimity to own it up. They insisted upon knowing more of the Indians as they now exist, since I was thus placed in possession of a medium of communication with them. I marked three articles for recitation; namely, “An Eye for an Eye; or, an Indian Justice,” “The Indians,” and “Harper’s Mill,” which, in my opinion, were worth the price of the number. As I read those articles by signs, I never saw a more attentive audience in all my life, a fact which shows that even mute children of tender years regard the red face with lively interest, and ever wish to see more of it. One of my boys told me that the most beautiful girl he ever saw was a young squaw residing in the neighborhood of his home, and he said further that he wished to marry her. My boys particularly wished to see Indian girls, they said. Shame, shame on them for their partiality! But since they were then quite young, their ages varying from seven to twelve years, let their weakness in this respect be winked at.”

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