I spent a day searching on the name “U-ta-wa-un” to see what I could turn up. I Googled him and I tried a number of newspaper search engines. I found a surprising amount of information about him. But is he the same person as Layton Kanistanaux?
I won’t go into great detail on this blog, but if any of my readers are interested in learning more about this man you won’t have a hard time finding him in newspapers of the northeast. It appears he was an educated man and his name appears very consistently over the years in the same form and spelling.
If I accept the 1870 Census information, U-ta-wa-un was born about 1834 in California. There may have been a senior and a junior and one of them may have used the more elaborate name of U-ta-wa-un-o-din-ok-an-es. And if you believe the advertising hype – it means “How-does-the-old-thing-work?” in Choctaw. Oh, but I though he was from California? Did the Choctaw live in California? Ah, no, but your average citizen probably didn’t know that.
So who was in California in 1835? A few scattered Mexicans and a lot of hunter-gatherer tribes. Missionary efforts to convert the Native People to an agricultural society where not very successful. The region was pretty well isolated from the rest of North America. They didn’t have regular visits from ships until the mid 1840s, about the same time the overland trails began to develop. Of course, they had the gold rush beginning in 1848. Now in 1870, I think it would have been a rather exotic place to be from and might inspire the curios potential customer to engage him in conversation – which of course could lead to a good sales pitch for his medicines.
The 1870 Census was the earliest mention of him I found, but once he came into the public eye he was active enough to stay there until his death. I found ads and news accounts of the doctor throughout New York State, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, and Vermont. I even found a mention of him in Wheeling, WV. My search is limited to newspapers available online, so, his territory may have consisted of a much greater area then suggested by the few newspapers I found.
The Doctor was quite the showman. In an 1871 advertisement he styles himself as “Dr. U-TA-WA-UN, the great Indian King of Medicine”. Besides doctoring, he gave temperance lectures in the 1870s & 80s. A few details from one of his lectures in 1884 suggests he wrapped things up by pitching his medicine. The reporter states “The lecturer was at times very eloquent and especially when he introduced his medicines which is said to be a cure for many ills of life. The doctor is an Indian and a very pleasant gentleman.” About this same time period I find two references that suggest he may have had a problem with alcohol, so perhaps he didn’t listen well to his own temperance advice.
At St. Albans, Vermont in May of 1877, the Doctor was charged with practicing medicine without a license. It appears he received his license (good for anywhere in Vermont) and was on his way with little effort. This same year he was arrested for “outraging” (molesting or perhaps raping) a young woman visiting him, but he was released after questioning.
In 1884, I found mention of the Doctor assisting an immigrant elderly couple (Swiss bell ringers) who had fallen on hard times. He was taking up a collection to get them placed in an “Old Folks’ Home”.
In 1890, he was advertising for all sorts of acts and musicians to put together a show. I found him giving an “exhibition” in Bridgeton, NJ in 1894, so perhaps the show did come together. This 1894 clipping referred to him as “the one-armed Indian doctor”, but I found no other reference to missing limbs or other physical oddities.
In Bridgeton, CT, 1894, I found a series of ads referring to him as the “lightning champion tooth-puller” and offering “Teeth pulled without pain” for free. He is still at it in 1806 based on this clipping, “Chief U-Ta-Wa-Un the Indian of Bridgeton, gave a demonstration on the corner last evening. No one ventured to have teeth pulled, however.”
In 1894 his promotions stated the “Ma-ha Indian medicines are the only true Indian medicines now in use.” Another one of his products was called “Dr. U-TA-WA-UN’s Indian Remedy & Blood Purifyer”.
I found the doctor in the 1900 U.S. Census in Meyersdale, PA. In this census year he states he is a “Chief”, born June 1836 in Illinois and that he is single (not widowed or divorced). I wonder what happened to his California birth and his wife? I guess they were for a different audience.
Speaking of his wife, I found only one mention of a wife. A news piece in the Caledonian (Vermont) in 1889 speaks of him being jailed for “amusing himself by pinching the ears of his wife with a pair of forceps.” I guess it was a slow day. Unfortunately, nothing more is found about the wife. If she really was his wife, it appears by 1900, she was tired of being the source of his amusement.
In 1906 he appears to be a resident of Bridgeton, CT or the very nearby region. He thinks he is a poet and posts a number of poems in the local newspaper there. He also tells a very fantastic “Indian place-name” story in the same paper.
The colorful career of Dr. U-ta-wa-un ended suddenly on the 17th of April, 1907 at Newark, NJ. A news account states he fell down a flight of stairs at a local Salvation Army hotel and broke his neck, dying instantly. In addition it states “The old chief was worth considerable money at one time in the west and had a son practicing medicine in Toledo, O.”
Now, after a day of searching in old newspapers, I have documented enough about U-ta-wa-un to say with reasonable certainty, he is not the same person as Layton Kanistanaux of Stockton, NY.
But what of Marleah, the woman with him in the 1870 Census – I will cover that mystery in my next post.
Do you have any information to add or questions?
Please leave a comment.
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