GENERAL COUNCIL MEETING ON CATHOLIC CEMETERY - September 23, 1925
Meeting of Council
September 23, 1925
Frank Thayer – Interpreter
Meeting was called to order by James P. Ryder.
Mr. Ryder: My friends the purpose of this meeting is to have an understanding
about the moving of the bodies in the Old Catholic cemetery and other burying
places down in the flowage. I have talked with a number of Indians who
are interested, and with Father Gordon, Father Kinney and Bishop Pinten
regarding this matter. I have explained to them that my services in this
matter are simple like that of a peacemaker. I am very anxious to do all
I can to protect the interests of the Indians who are interested in those
graves. It appeared as though the matter was never going to be settled
between the Power Company and the Church authorities. The Power Company
wanted Bishop Pinten, in settling his claim, to sign a complete release.
Owing to those graves it was impossible for the Bishop to give such a release
without first getting the release of each and every Indian, so the matter
came to the point where nothing could be done, neither party could act.
It was then that I offered my services to come in between and attempt to
remove the situation regarding the graves, which was providing such a difficulty,
in having the whole matter settled. It must be remembered aside from the
question of graves there is also the question of Church property down at
the Old Post that must be settled by the Company. The question can never
be settled until the Bishop is in a position to sign a complete release.
As long as the bodies remain in the cemetery it will be impossible for
Bishop Pinten, or anyone else, to accept settlement from the Power Company.
Regarding the construction of a new church, I know that you folks are interested in this matter, not only from the question of your relatives buried there but also from having a church for your purposes. Now in order to make possible a situation where the Bishop can accept a settlement from the Company and give them a complete release, it is necessary that we take care of the matter of the interred dead down in the cemetery. Arrangements have been made with Mr. Frank Thayer and Frank Worman to remove the bodies from the cemetery to a new place. However before that can be done it is necessary that interested parties sign a paper which authorizes them to open the grave and take out the remains; and also another paper which releases the Company from a question of all damages and any claim of damages forever, in consideration for having the dead bodies removed. Therefore I place before you the purpose for which this meeting was called. I would say that before anything can be done it is absolutely necessary that each and everyone having relatives buried in the Old Post village or in that vicinity, sign one of these authorities. I think that at this time I will call on Father Kinney to present his opinion on the plan.
Father Kinney: Reverend Father Gordon, Mr. Ryder, Dear Friends: I am sure that Mr. Ryder means well in what he proposes, the Bishop is willing to settle in as far as the Church is concerned but he cannot settle about the graves. He could not give the Company permission to go in and remove the bodies unless the relatives were willing they should be taken away. The Company wants to settle both the church and the cemetery at once. The Company will not settle until they settle all at once and the relatives will have to settle with the Company about the graves, and after the people are satisfied about the cemetery, then the Bishop can settle about the Church, and I am sure that Mr. Ryder has taken a good deal of pains already and that he means to do the right thing by the people and wants to settle it quickly and without any trouble, and peace is always a good thing.
Mr. Ryder: I wish to thank Father Kinney for his remarks and I will now take the liberty on calling on your old friend Father Gordon to explain what he thinks of the situation.
Father Gordon: I want to tell for the benefit of Mr. Ryder the
history of the matter before he came.
Now the Right Reverend Bishop at one time had a meeting at Superior about three years ago, which I attended, in which the Company offered the Bishop $10,000 in cash if he would take over the whole matter and have responsibility. However the Bishop refused. The Bishop thought like Father Kinney said, that he did not want to take any responsibility for the moving of these graves unless the people said yes or no. For two years now, last Easter, the Indians hired a lawyer, Mr. Oliver M. Olson. They signed a contract with this lawyer in which they placed all the handling of this affair in his hands. I think Mr. Olson gave the Indians the understanding that at this time he was going to sue the Company for damages. Mr. Olson, as far as I can remember has done very little since that time. In fact I feel kind of ashamed for I helped to get this man here, but he came to me very highly recommended by people who were supposed to be friends of the Indians. Now I have lost almost all confidence in this Mr. Olson and have suspicions that he is not playing fair with the contract, which we took. I have written about fifteen letters to him and he has not answered one. He has promised to do certain things in this matter but he has never kept his promises. Now I was talking to Mr. Ryder about this contract and it seems that before the Indians can get another contract they will have to get a release from this Mr. Olson. Mr. Ryder has located this man and he is willing to give back the contract and also to give back any money he has not spent, which amounts to, I believe, $200, and if he spent more than they gave he said he would call it square anyway. Now that is all the history Mr. Ryder, I know of. I think however, before the Indians enter into an agreement, there should be a definite statement as to what it means by moving the bodies. Will new coffins be furnished? Or like the graves that have been moved, will they simply build a trench and lay the bodies in it. Are they disposed to do as the U.S. Steel Corporation of Superior did? In moving the bodies across the bay, they provide new coffins and new headstones. If I am not mistaken the spent $50 or $60 moving each grave. There is one thing I am going to ask Mr. Ryder. Does he think the Indians are entitled to any damages outside of the moving of the graves?
I have the greatest confidence in Mr. Ryder. He is not obliged to do this but came here as an outsider to help the Indians.
Mr. Ryder: I wish to thank Father Gordon for his remarks and also for
mentioning some of the points, which he did.
I will answer the last question first. As to the question of damages, it is a difficult matter for me to say definitely whether or not you are entitled to damages. But it is very easy for me to assure you never get any outside a long litigation. The license proved that the Company was compelled to remove all Indian graves on Tribal Lands; it is very uncertain what the outcome would be. I do believe you could obtain a judgment for such graves as were actually covered with water, and I also believe that the Company would appeal and appeal from one court to a higher one as long as there was a higher court to go to, before making a settlement.
Father Gordon made mention of Mr. Olson. Two weeks ago last Sunday, I drove up to Ashland and hunted Mr. Olson up. I wanted to learn just how he stood before we went to far with this affair. I know that he had a sort of agreement with the Indians interested in the cemetery and wished to go very carefully so that there would be no clash on account of the contract. I had quite a talk with Mr. Olson at that time. He told me he would gladly surrender a release to the Indians who had signed that contract. He said as a matter of sentiment he was glad I was taking care of the situation for the Indians. He told me it was impossible to get any place so far as a suit was concerned, for the reason, for the reason that you folks had no money to finance litigation. He also stated that the outcome of a suit was very uncertain and he assured me that if we could get the graves moved that such a settlement would be about all we could hope for. He told me that you folks had advanced him a certain sum of money, I do not know how much, and that you had agreed to pay his expenses to come from Chicago to the meeting that was held here a year ago last Easter; and I think he also stated that he was supposed to make a trip to Washington. He told me he would make a statement of his expenses and if any of the money which he holds was more than the required he would turn back the balance and that if his expenses are greater than the moneys which he holds, he charge off the balance and give a receipt in full.
Father Gordon made mention of the manner of removing those bodies. It was my desire in having this work done that somebody have charge of it in whom both you and I would have confidence. I do not want some outsider to come and handle this matter in a ruthless manner, and accordingly I recommended to the Company, Mr. Thayer and Mr. Worman. As to the manner of doing the work it was decided that each and every grave would be open separately; that a box similar to those used by the Indians for burying purposes would be furnished for such remains as would be found. I will state that the Company does not anticipate furnishing new caskets.
Jim Bennet: Will lumber be furnished?
Mr. Ryder: Lumber will be furnished and a box will be made.
Father Gordon: I think what bothers some of the Indians is that the lumber used was of the cheapest grade. They object to having very rough lumber.
Mr. Ryder: I want to state that I do not want anything that the Indians do not want. This is their matter and not mine and I am simply offering my services to attempt reconciliation between all parties interested. I would now like to have someone interested in this matter explain their opinions on this plan for the guidance of myself and for the assistance of the Indians.
Jim Bennet: Wouldn’t it be better to get the release of the attorney before moving the graves?
Mr. Ryder: A question has been raised about waiting to get the release from Mr. Olson and I want to say that I will accept the responsibility of getting the release of that contract. Mr. Olson told me he would send back the list of names buried down there and also a number of other papers which he has. I told Mr. Olson of this meeting and invited him to be present with us today and I am very sorry that he did not come.
Mr. James: I think it is best to wait until we get the release and have the papers returned from Mr. Olson.
Mr. Ryder: If it is the desire of you people to let this matter rest why that is agreeable with me.
Mr. James: How long will it take to get those papers?
Mr. Ryder: Mr. Olson told me he closed his Chicago office and all his papers are in storage and he contemplated going back the last of this week. He promised to write me a letter telling me he released these parties from the contract and that therefore the contract was null and void. There is one thing that I failed to mention regarding the contract with Mr. Olson, the Department requires that a contract with Indians must have the sanction of the Department of the Interior in order to be binding, and this contract you made with Mr. Olson has never been approved by the Secretary.
Father Gordon: Most of the Indians were unrestricted.
A standing vote is taken to hold matter in abeyance until the receipt of papers and release from Mr. Olson, after which the meeting was adjourned.